Michael: Hello folks and welcome to eCommerce Q & A, this is the show where, as you know, store owners and directors of eCommerce and eCommerce managers can stay up to date on the latest and greatest in eCommerce. I’m Michael Bauer, your host and self-proclaimed eCommerce junkie. Basically means I’m really into this topic, super passionate about it and frequently host on this show. Our guest today is an expert onsite search and personalization, his name is Derek Wisnewski and his company is called Nextopia. We’ve been working with Nextopia actually for about five or six years with clients and just been extremely happy with their company and what they offer. But we’ve never done a podcast together so here we are. Derek, welcome.
Derek: Hey, thanks Michael. Thanks for bringing me on to this podcast. Excited to share some more knowledge about onsite search.
Michael: Absolutely, it’s wonderful to have you. Derek, can you tell me a little bit about your background? I understand you’re a senior account executive at Nextopia. How do you come into the situation? Bring me your shtick.
Derek: Sure, absolutely. I started here seven years ago at Nextopia. I was kind of an experiment where we were looking to branch out our sales team, so I was brought on board to try to connect more retailers that needed improvement in their onsite search. Over the course of time our product has evolved. My role has evolved in doing podcasts, all sorts of marketing, getting involved in the technical aspect. During the course of that time, I’ve worked with hundreds of retailers on all sorts of various platforms and it’s a never ending learning job because, even after seven years when you think you’ve heard it all about the challenges that people have with onsite search and navigation, there’s always something new that comes up.
Michael: Yeah, well, onsite search and navigation, those are the two things people do on a website, right? They’re looking for things or they’re browsing for things. Now, before we move on from that point, I’m kind of curious which platforms would you say people are most happy with right now and most unhappy with from the merchants you’re talking to?
Derek: That’s really the big question out there because it’s all over the map, so oftentimes we get retailers saying, “What platform would you recommend?” There isn’t any perfect answer out there. There’s no perfect platform out there. There’s certainly a lot of brand names out there that you hear, everything from Magento, Shopify, Big Commerce of Illusion, but they’re constantly evolving and always changing. What I’ve seen over the years is that some platforms stagnate, some other ones evolve, other ones simply just fall by the wayside. There’s always new platforms coming up. It’s really hard to say what our industry’s even going to look like five years from now. I often say to a retailer that are saying, “Which platform should I choose and go to?” My answer to them is always-
Michael: Call Sellry, because Sellry can tell you which platform to use.
Derek: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.
Michael: I just couldn’t resist. We actually have a platform selection service that we offer. Nobody ever pays us just for that so don’t tell anyone I told you that.
Michael: Well, Derek, today we want to talk about one particular topic which we’ve hit upon before. We’ve had a couple of guests before that have talked about this topic but it’s one that we just can’t get enough of because it’s one that a lot of stores are still just don’t fully understand, don’t know how to start working and [inaudible 00:03:58] on, which is site search and the related topic of navigation. Today I want to mainly focus on site search.
Now, I understand from a blog on moz.com, that nearly 84% of companies don't actively optimize or measure their onsite search. That blows me away. Search is one of the main things people ever do, what do you do when you go to Google? You don't browse. You search, right?
Michael: When your site, do you really think they’re just browsing? I don’t think so.
Derek: No, no, absolutely not. That search box out there is about the closest thing you can actually get to actually talking to your customers. We’ve seen time and time again when people are looking at their onsite search analytics that those that are using that search box are sticking around on the site longer, they’re contributing to more revenue, they’re definitely more objective focus and more serious about purchasing something on your site than somebody that’s just clicking around a whole bunch of different category links.
Michael: Yeah, yeah. I think the corollary maybe would just be a window shopper or even just somebody just browsing around in the mall. They’re just going around, looking around, seeing what’s there. Very different from somebody who comes and says to you, basically says to your salesperson, which is your website, “Hey, I want to buy this.” Or, “I’m interested in this exact thing. Do you have this thing?” Wa-la, yes we do. Well, guess what? That’s a much more likely sale.
Let's dig into some of the common misconceptions about onsite search and navigation that you see a lot. Several of the top things you think of.
Derek: Well, absolutely. There’s several misconceptions that I’ve seen over the years.
One is that I've been hearing a lot of retailers that we talk to is that all onsite search and navigation solutions are built the same, which is absolutely not true. Solutions out there are all over the map. There's some that do a better job than others. There's many that just cut corners, they see their website and say, "Oh, they do search and auto complete. Nextopia does search and auto complete. It's essentially the same." But there's a lot of things that happen in the background. For example, there's some that offer very limited functionality, controlling your algorithm, bringing back results or even limited analytics. We've been doing this for over 12 years in this space. We've got a whole wealth of experience in dealing with hundreds of unique onsite search challenges because we truly believe that no two data sets are exactly the same. If you're a retailer that spends a significant amount of time, let's say, designing and implementing your eCommerce site, why would a solution that costs a fraction of your site, and that can amount to a large portion of your revenue on your site, be overlooked so easily? Another misconception is that onsite search should be a "just set and forget it" job. In some cases, it is, maybe if you're a small retailer. But in our past experience, retailers that are analyzing their onsite search reports, that are engaging, let's say, with their platform, are able to move their metrics even more because they're capitalizing on all that onsite search data to merchandise their products that are congruent in the way that their customers are shopping on their site.
Michael: I have a question for you. I’ve heard that search-assisted conversion or conversions that involved a search are four or five times more likely to happen than those that don’t use search. Is that true?
Derek: Absolutely. We see this time and time again. It’s not an anomaly that anytime a retailer looks at their onsite search report and their Google analytics they spend much longer time on the site. The average order value’s higher. Their search to exit rate is significantly lower. Why is this the case? Well, as I mentioned earlier, their objective focus, they know what they … Or they’re serious about buying something on the site. For example, I was talking to a retailer the other day who mentioned, “I don’t think that onsite search is that important.” He said only 5% of his visitors use a search box. When we dug a bit deeper, he noticed that 5% of those users account for 41% of his revenue. That means that every visitor that uses the search box is 8 times more valuable than those that browse around on his category pages. That means even if he were to move the needle a little bit, or even take, let’s say, a portion of his spending that he does on paper click in AdWords, it would have a huge impact on his bottom line.
Michael: Now, I think you could say, looking at that, well, that could be a causal relationship or not. Meaning you could say, “Oh, well, those people are making those purchases because they’re using the search,” or you could say, “These are the type of people that are … They are targeted searchers and they’re looking for something specific.” Which basically … To me, that’s the more plausible. I don’t think that just because you have a search magically makes people more willing to buy. I think it’s more like no, people that are coming and using this pathway, if you’re giving them a good tracks to run on they’re going to run on those tracks. If you don’t give them what they’re looking for, if you don’t give them a good searching experience, they’re ready to buy. They’re not going to buy if you’re not making it possible for them to easily find what they’re looking for.
Derek: That’s right, absolutely. I think we’ve been spoiled by the likes of Amazon and Google out there is that people are expecting that search box to be in front of them. When we look at some of the top retailers that are driving a majority of the revenue out there, such as the Amazons, an eBays, and Walmarts out there of the world, that people are expecting that type of experience on your site. If they’re not, they’re just going to end up going somewhere else that does offer that experience.
Michael: Let’s talk about that experience. What is it about a fully [org 00:09:54] and well put together search experience that is so transformative for an online retailer or brand?
Derek: Well, I think one of the main things is to have good relevancy and to have some sort of level of personalization as well. When a visitor’s coming to the website and shopping for something, they want to make sure that, for example, maybe there’s some sort of enhanced auto complete that’s adapting to what they’re typing in. It’s recognizing the terms. They want to know that if, let’s say, you’re misspelling something or you’re using different languaging that it’s able to still bring back relevant results. They want to make sure that they can easily get to the product that they’re looking for with the least amount of clicks. Having robust filters or attributes, whether it’s on your category pages or search result pages, that are applicable to the set of results that the visitor is looking at are important.
They want to make sure that there's elements on there on the search result page that are, I guess in a sense adaptable to, or congruent to what they're expecting on the site. For example, let's say you're a retailer that is driving a lot of shoppers that are price sensitive. They want to see that they're getting a discount or maybe that they're showing on their search result page that if you buy a certain quantity of items that you get a lower price. Or maybe, for example, that you're running a lot of promotions on your website. These are all elements that are important, that's why it's always helpful to understand who's your ideal shopper. What kind of shopper are you trying to target? What kind of experience are they expecting on your website? For example, one of the questions we often get asked is, "How should I design my 'no results found' page, for example, when somebody gets zero results?" I often say, "Well, ask what would your shopper expect?" Would they expect some sort of coupon code? Do they want some sort of feedback form where they can special order something? Do they want a way to easily navigate through your site? These are the kind of questions you should be asking your shoppers and determining what kind of experience they want to have on your site when they're searching.
Michael: Yeah, that’s really great. You know what I was thinking about when you were talking about that is the biggest thing that I love about Nextopia that I haven’t seen with other search offerings in nearly the same way is that the results pages can be just really beautifully customized to exactly what you’re looking for. This is a really big challenge with a lot of these companies that do fast auto completes, is just that you got to do all the templating yourself and it’s just a pain. Really huge pain. I’m thinking of a couple things right now.
Or it basically doesn't even have the ability for you to change it at all. Well, you guys are great at that. You basically come along side the owners of the website, the stakeholders, and say, "Hey, what do you want for your results page? What do you need here?" And then that gets crafted out in a very meticulous way. I love that you brought that out.
Derek: Absolutely. Again, it goes to that point that I made earlier, is that when a retailer comes to us and they’ve spent an inordinate amount of time developing their site, getting shoppers to it, they want to make sure that their search results, their category pages, reflect that. We work directly with the retailer to not only analyze their data, we look at their requirements, we look at what kind of other vendors that they’re implementing and make sure it’s a cohesive implementation. Making sure that when we present the solution to them that, when they integrate it on their website, it’s fully integrated with the type of vision that they want or requirements that they’re asking us as part of the integration process.
Michael: Yeah, yeah. Tell you what. Open-ended question on a completely different topic, if you don’t mind?
Michael: You have a fair amount of experience with Toastmasters, which, for those who aren’t familiar, is a way that you can get better at public speaking. I would venture to guess that you’re into … You really think about good communication a lot. Is that true?
Michael: When you think about the search experience what is the dialogue that the website is having with the searcher? I’m looking for how can we anthropomorphize this a little bit? I don’t want to a chat [bot 00:14:59] where it’s like, “Hello, I’m your friendly little something, tell me what you’re looking for today.” Then this long back and forth conversation. No, we’re looking for a two step conversation here. It’s between somebody who obviously wants something and then you who hopefully can provide it. What are the things … I’ll be more specific with my question. What are some really just well executed implementations of Nextopia’s search feature that have brought a really good human element to the experience?
Derek: That’s a great question. I think one of the thing we’re striving more towards is a better one-to-one personalization. We’ve introduced a module called Personas where it’s providing more of that one-to-one interaction with the customer. Sort of like an Amazon level experience. It’s saying … The search is feeding back information back to you and saying, “I understand what you’re intention is on this website.”
For example, if you're a clothing retailer and you're typing in shoes and you're, let's say, clicking on male-related products, then the search is understanding that intention and bringing back more other male-related items on the site.
Michael: Is it like filtering it down by male stuff based on the fact that it sees, oh, you’re looking for male stuff?
Derek: That’s right, exactly. It’s learning maybe from a more granular perspective. Maybe you have an affinity for certain brands or maybe you like, for example, Nike, and it’s learning from that experience so that when you’re shopping around the site it’s saying, “Hey, I understand what you’re trying to do.” Or all of sudden if your intentions change then it’s adapting from that perspective as well. So let’s say you might be shopping for yourself, you’re as a male, but you say all of a sudden, “I need to get something for my daughter.” It’s understanding okay now I’m shopping for female clothing or these type of brands. That kind of interaction one-on-one is more of where we’re having that dialogue and the visitor is saying, “Hey, this is great. You understand how to adapt the merchandising towards what I want.”
Michael: That’s really cool. Is this just part of the search or does it go beyond that?
Derek: No, this goes beyond that. Eventually down the road what we want to do is incorporate this sort of like as a baseline as part of our platform. It’s not going to be applicable to every kind of industry. For example, if you have a B2B website and people are typing in specific part numbers, Personas isn’t going to be something that’s going to be, in a sense, doing that because maybe people know, “I want this specific part. I’m not looking for a more general kind of search.” More and more we’re seeing that, even in the B2B space, that the search results are adapting and saying, “Okay, you understand that I have these certain credentials or maybe I have this special level of pricing or maybe I have visibility to these certain level of products so show me the search results that are going to adapt to that.” That’s what we’re moving more towards.
I think, as time goes on, more and more data points are going to be collected. It's always difficult to say what's the perfect formula or recipe out there but I think the more data we collect on shoppers, the more we'll be able to say, "Okay, you want this. We understand on the basis of your history, the information or the data points that we've collected, this is the kind of search results that you want."
Michael: I was just thinking about the jobs to be done framework and applying that to search. If you think about your website search, what is a job that needs to be done with the search? Imagining that you didn’t have search for a second and this will mainly apply to folks with larger product catalogs or retailers, marketplaces. The search is you telling me what you want and then me getting you my best take at what I’ve got that’s going to meet that need. Sometimes there’s a bit of guessing, right, about, let’s see, you’re looking for blue shoes or something like that or maybe like a … I don’t know, I can’t think of anything, a belt. I’m looking for a belt. Well, you need a belt. Well, okay, a belt goes with pants. Maybe your size has changed. Maybe you might need other things like that.
Maybe there's something that will help that we can put in front of you in the way of content that would tie in with that some way. That's something that's cool about your platform is that it doesn't just do product searches, you can set it up so it can search for anything. Anything. Maybe in terms of using the search as a way to understand your customer, like you just said, but also bringing back to the customer a curated experience in a moment of time through the search results. If I could change every single eCommerce website in the world it would be to make the search so that when I search you give me a really good guess at what I'm thinking about and what I'm wanting and show me something that's maybe slightly peripheral to what I'm looking for but might tie in somehow.
Derek: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Michael: Kind of an open-ended statement I’m making but I think everybody thinks about how do we add editorial content to our category pages. Well, what about the search page?
Derek: Yeah, absolutely. There’s more of a trend moving towards that. People are putting in mixed content. We have retailers, for example, that are saying, “I don’t just want product results. I want my WordPress blog posts,” or maybe, “I want my RSS feeds because I understand my visitors to my website need more information before they actually buy the product.” For example, we have one client that sells lab supplies to high schools. The big problem that they had is when their visitors, teachers were shopping on their website were saying, “I know these products are here but I’m not sure that it’s applicable to my grade that I’m teaching in high school.” What we did was we created a mixed content result where now they have their WordPress and their product search all mixed in together and rather than them going off the site and saying, “Okay, I’m going to go to the WordPress site,” maybe come back to the main site, everything is all merged into one.
We're definitely seeing more of that. I think as social media becomes bigger, Instagram ... For example, we have even something where you can curate the content from your Instagram and create more of that social proof on your actual eCommerce site. That's been a boon for our retailers.
Michael: What I’m hearing is kind of like a cross pollination of content and almost a search’s navigation. What’s the fastest way to get from the blog to the product? Well, you can click “shop” and try and find the spot or you could just search for something and if you can see, oh, I’ve got all these options, it opens things up for you.
Well, I tell you what, as we reach kind of the end of our segment here, tell me something specific that listeners can do if they would like to improve their onsite search and navigation.
Derek: Yeah, absolutely. I think one of the first things to understand is some retailers might be asking themselves, “How do I know that my onsite search and navigation needs improving?” Some of the steps that you can take is, number one, if you don’t have onsite search turned on in your Google analytics and you have goal conversion set up, please do that because then you’ll get some insightful information and you’ll be able to know what people are typing in, whether you’re getting the right kind of results by testing those terms or you might be getting zero results.
Also, take a look at what your competitors are doing because oftentimes retailers approach us and they go, "My competitors have a better onsite search experience than I do." Talk to your customers, as I mentioned earlier, and see what kind of their experiences on the site, whenever they're calling you up and asking you question. Also, take a look at your conversion rate overall in your Google analytics. If you find ... Let's say you're spending a lot on SCO, and your conversion rate is low, maybe taking a portion of that budget out of there and putting it towards onsite search could pay dividends for turning those browsers more into shoppers. Also, take a look just how your current search is structured and see is this what you're envisioning for your brand and your name. If it's not, then maybe it's time for a change. A lot of our tools, without getting too much into it, provide a lot of that automation and make it so much easier to help you merchandise your site rather than doing a lot of manual tasks that we're hearing from a lot of retailers when we first start working with them.
Michael: I was just thinking about this. I really feel like onsite search is just as important as having a fast website in the first place. You know how when you’re browsing a website and it’s taking forever and you’re just like, “Ugh,” [inaudible 00:24:44]. Well, it’s the same thing with search. If you don’t have good search people feel like you really don’t care and they’re just going to abandon … Whereas it’s such a nice feeling when that website has a nice search. Similar feeling that I get when I’m browsing a fast website. Good search, fast website. I like this. Me likey. I’m going to stay here. I’m going to probably shop. I can tell that these people are doing stuff right.
I was inviting you to make a pitch. Go for it. How do people work with Nextopia?
Derek: Absolutely. If you’re unsure or you just want an assessment on how much more valuable your search box could be, we’re happy to do an onsite search assessment. We have a 50-point checklist that we can go through, give you a full report. Let’s just take a look at … We work with hundreds of different verticals so chances are we have somebody in the same vertical as you. You can take a look at what they’re doing on their site versus what you have on your website and see how we can help you out. There’s always opportunity and room for improvement. We got a wonderful team here that works directly with you when you are a client. We can share with you a lot of best practices, even if it’s not the right time right now, at least you can take away a couple points and maybe some things to think about.
Michael: Great. Where can people go if they’d like to talk to you more about this directly or if they’d like to get a demo?
Derek: Yeah, absolutely. The best way to reach me is you can email me directly. It’s email@example.com. That’s D-E-R-E-K at Nextopia.com. Just drop me a note and I’d be happy to schedule a time to do an assessment with you.
Michael: I’d like to take this a step further as we discussed right before this show. We’re going to give away one free website search tear down to somebody who responds saying, “Hey, I really want that.” One lucky listener … Guys, the listeners go up on this show so you better move fast here. What you want to do is go to ecommerceqa.com/nextopia. That’s spelled N-E-X-T-O-P-I-A. Ecommerceqa.com/nextopia and fill out the form and we’ll pull the name out of the hat and you’ll get contacted by me and Derek and we will tear down your site and make you feel really bad about it and then you’ll totally see how you can improve it.
That's a wrap for today. Derek, any final thoughts for people?
Derek: Just one final thought. Always remember that onsite search and navigation is a continuous process. It’s something that you have to always be looking at how your visitors browse through your site, adapting to their languaging, their behavior, and if you continue to stick with it, it’s going to pay huge dividends for your eCommerce site in the longterm.
Michael: And in the short term. I got to tell you, if you have a bad search I’m not even going to talk to you.
Derek, thanks so much for joining us today. This has been a pleasure for me to chat with you and we're looking forward to who that lucky person is who's going to be able to get a bunch of amazing insights into their search for free. Again, just go to ecommerceqa.com/nextopia. Thanks everyone.
Derek: Thanks, Michael, for having me. It was fun.
Michael: Absolutely. Take care.
Derek: Alright. You, too.
Michael: Bye now.