Guiding Customers to Information


I was recently searching Amazon, not for a book but for a specific discount that I had heard about. I entered the name in the search bar at the top of the page and pressed enter. A ‘no search engine’ page with recommended products came up immediately. I checked my spelling and checked the name of the discount; both were correct. I tried again and nothing came up.

I finally realized that the search bar at the top of every Amazon page does not allow you to search for information. It is for products only. This can be confusing and frustrating for customers, who may have to try several times before realizing their error. It is not unusual for a customer to need information on shipping, returns and other policies, and they should be able to find these facts easily.

In the case of Amazon, you have to go to their Help section and then search within the section using a small and difficult to find search bar. If I had been in a hurry, or if I had been searching for anything other than a discount, I would not have invested the time and effort necessary to figure out this confusing system.

You want to make things easier and more efficient for your own ecommerce website visitors, right? The first thing that you need to do is to ensure that help and customer service documents are included in your search index. This should include your shipping, return and privacy policies. Many visitors will not ‘see’ the links to these, even if you place them prominently. For many people (and I am one of these), the search engine is their best friend.

Next, you will have to tag these pages with keywords, the same way you do with products, to ensure that they come up in searches. This may seem like a lot of work, but it is a one time job. Unlike product tags, these will not need to be updated on a regular basis. If you are having trouble coming up with keywords, look at some of your competitors’ websites. Unfortunately, this may give you examples of what not to do. As I found with Amazon, many competitors do not optimize this information because it is not important in external searches.

You can also browse your customer service emails and other communication for hints. Look at the terms that people use to describe their needs. Ensure that these phrases are included in your tags. You should also think about how you personally would search for help topics if you were a customer.

There are tools for internal search that can be very helpful in this area, such as stemming tools (which allow variations of a term such as plurals to come up in a search) and auto-correction of misspelled terms.

Last, test your system. Search for phrases that are unique to your ecommerce website as well as more general ones like ‘returns’ and ‘international shipping’. You may want to create special pages that deal with these topics, even if your international shipping policy (for example) is included at the bottom of your shipping policy. Remember, the goal is to make this information as easy to find as possible.