In 2020, brands will work on developing their voice search capabilities--with good reason. By 2022, voice-based shopping is expected to jump to $40 billion in 2022. That said, optimizing for search starts with a strong understanding of what consumers want (no matter who they are, how they speak, or what words they use) on your own site. If you can’t capture consumer intent every time, you won’t make it to the most important steps in the process: getting from intent to answers, and answers to actions. Explore this article to learn how to get your internal site search in shape.

A Brief Overview on Internal Site Search

Most marketers are familiar with the process of changing site text to align with how consumers might search for a product or service (aka classic keyword-driven SEO). Optimizing site text, however, doesn’t account for your site’s structure nor the many ways in which potential customers may look for what you sell. That’s where internal site search comes in. On average, 30% of site visitors perform on-site searches. Plus, on-site searches are a strong behavioral predictor of intent to convert. Research shows that customers who search on your site are nearly 2x more likely to convert than others.

Why brands should focus on internal site search first

While well-optimized internal search may indirectly affect your rankings on search engines, internal site search ensures consumers can find what they’re looking for once they’ve arrived. While many businesses may opt for some sort of third-party plug-in to capture internal inquiries, this is a huge missed opportunity. Hiring developers with specialized expertise in building custom search functionality is more likely to help customers find what they need the moment they’re looking for it. After all, custom search built into your own platform optimized for your vocabulary, your context, and your business case allows you to deliver on the high expectations that your users have for search in their own words.

In practice, this may mean making it easier for customers to get specific about what they’re looking for, capturing the many ways in which customers may describe something, or catering to different audiences with different areas of expertise (think: doctors vs. patients).

The connection between SEO & Internal Site Search

Let’s circle back to the connection between internal site search and SEO. For starters, monitoring your internal site search queries is a great resource for identifying how consumers actually look for your products or services. Conversely, it can also serve as a gut check for words to deemphasize in your SEO optimization efforts. In other words, if no one is using a certain phrase during search on your site, it’s safe to say that you shouldn’t focus on putting ad dollars behind that phrase.

Creating site structure with internal search

Having stellar internal site search starts with well-organized data. To give consumers what they want, you need to understand what they’re asking for and the best context in which to show it to them. This “context” is also known as how you index your site content. Custom search functionality comes with one major benefit: regular indexing of your site to ensure new content is properly organized when people search for it. By paying attention to how visitors search on your site, you can make more informed decisions about which products are grouped into certain categories and how pages are grouped in site architecture and navigation.

Using internal site searches to identify and fill gaps

One of the biggest opportunities with internal site search is its ability to help you see what isn’t on your site (but should be). A Moz article explains how an April Fools product turned into an actual opportunity because of internal site search.

ThinkGeek had an April Fool's joke about a Tauntaun sleeping bag... even though the product wasn't real, they started seeing several hundreds of searches for that product on their site. What was surprising to them was that the searches not only increased, but continued well after the April Fool’s joke. As a result, they actually made that sleeping bag and it became a customer hit. While it wasn't only found via on-site search, the consistency of mentions convinced them to actually make it.

Beyond creating brand new products, gaps in your search can be used to reorganize your site, add content to your blog, or even capture important questions in your FAQ section to ensure customer satisfaction.

The best place to start when it comes to creating a great search experience is your website. After all, research shows that if consumers can’t find the information they’re looking for on your site in 2–3 search attempts, they will leave. From ecommerce companies to hospitals to education organizations and more, custom site search is paramount to making sure customers can find what they need in words that work for them. Keeping up with this expectation will not only increase the likelihood of conversion, but solidify your position as a company your customers can trust to make their lives easier in one search or less.