How to use site search to avoid “no results” pages

Elliott Gluck

 

With sites like Google and Amazon providing instant and personalized search results, today’s web users expect the same experience from every site they visit. 

But searches that return “zero results or “no results” pages are frustrating roadblocks in the user experience. And, more often than not, they drive visitors to your competitors’ sites. With strategic improvements to your site search engine, you can avoid “no results” pages and ensure you always offer users a path forward. 

 

What are “no results” pages?

A “no results” page is the web page shown to a user when the internal site search engine cannot locate any content relevant to the user’s query. 

Sometimes, there truly are not any products or contents that match the query. However, for many sites, relevant content does exist—but the site search is not optimized well enough to find matches. 

When users encounter a “no results” page, they often abandon the page or site altogether. If you’re really lucky, they might try to re-phrase their query and search again. But attention spans are short, and serving a “no results” page is a fast way to lose customers’ interest (and potentially their purchase). 

 

Why “no results” pages are bad for business

The “no results” page is a dead end for users, since it doesn’t answer the original query and doesn’t suggest meaningful alternatives. It can both frustrate the user and hurt the business in a number of ways, including:

  • Harms overall UX. A site search that doesn’t return results fails to deliver on its basic function to connect users to what they need. When users don’t get what they need, they can’t meaningfully interact with your site. 
  • Undermines users’ perception of site content. When a search fails, users might assume you don’t offer the content or products they seek. Users are more likely to leave without becoming acquainted with everything your site has to offer, which is reflected by high bounce rates after unsuccessful searches. 
  • Negatively affects KPIs. Frequently occurring “no results” pages can have a negative impact on the brand itself. A subpar site search gives users the perception that the site has poor-quality service relative to competitors. This causes increased bounce rates, decreased engagement and conversion rates, and reduced sales, among others. 

 

Traditional “no results” pages are not effective

Some “no results” pages encourage users to search again by providing some basic tips on how to better structure their queries or by recommending a few common searches. Sometimes the pages will include humorous images to lighten the mood for inevitably frustrated searchers. Websites with sufficient customer service resources may also provide information on how to get support.

In the end, though, none of these remedies are sufficient. Why? The internal site search engine still has not met the basic expectation of understanding the query and providing the most relevant results. 

In many industries, acquisition is harder than ever, and most sites are oversaturated with content. Thus, the reality is that visitors will leave to find something else if they aren’t quickly satisfied.  

 

Fine-tune your site search to eliminate “no results” pages

Any run-of-the-mill site search can return results. But if the relevance has not been fine-tuned, users will encounter “no results” pages, especially for less common queries. By adjusting relevance, semantic settings, and other components of your search engine, you can eliminate “no results” pages altogether. 

Well-designed site search systems can dynamically break down the semantics and structure of a complex search to provide the best matches. This allows the engine to return relevant results, even when the query is misspelled or does not use the exact same terms as the relevant product listing or webpage. 

Example of a complex query returning relevant search results

 

A great site search experience can turn imperfect user queries into relevant results. But the best site search tools take it one step further. When there is truly no relevant product or content for a query, the search engine should recommend related products or content that the user might be interested in, rather than a “no results” page for the intended query. In that way, your site search connects visitors to what they know they need, plus what they didn’t know they needed yet. 

 

6 ways to avoid “no results” pages

There are a number of ways to optimize the search engine to avoid “no results” pages:

1. Work on building your synonym library

A flexible search engine must be able to handle synonyms that capture the variety of ways visitors may refer to the same item. For instance, a company that sells sodas throughout the US must be able to handle customers from the Midwest that use the word “pop.” It is important, therefore, to understand your customers and build that information into a library of synonyms.  This information can be indexed alongside the content related to the product or service offering. Use your site search data, in addition to other research, to understand which synonyms are most important and what key terms you might be missing out on. 

2. Use Autocomplete and Query Suggestions

Autocomplete search and query suggestions offer recommendations and alternate queries as the user types in the search bar. This helps the user to refine their search and/or discover a new query, leading them to what they need faster. By suggesting queries known to return results, autocomplete eliminates the chance of an unsuccessful search. 

Twitch search
Example of a rich autocomplete that goes beyond search suggestions

 

3. Make sure your site search is adaptable to human errors

Humans frequently misspell words and misuse punctuation. An un-optimized site search will trip over user mistakes and thus return no matches. Great site search systems must handle typos and filter punctuation to provide the best results. Note, however, that typo correction is typically done by calculating the distance in characters from the most likely word match, so some experimentation and monitoring is necessary to ensure that the system is not over – or under-correcting words. 

query with typo yet relevant result
Example of a query with a typo returning relevant search results

4. Personalize results

User history can provide valuable insights into customers’ likely search interests. By using data such as past searches, purchases, and self-reported interests, a search engine should be able to better understand a user’s search intent and provide contextually relevant results. This will also increase click-through and conversion rates as results are more likely to be of interest to users. 

5. Customize your search based on business needs 

While many search features can be generalized across domains, there are some factors that are unique to your businesses or industries. Refine the custom relevance for your business based on business considerations, like primary KPIs for the website, as well as customer priorities, like top-selling products. As you refine the relevance of your search to meet business needs and customer needs, searches will return more and more relevant results.  

6. Use analytics to understand customer needs

Optimizing search is an iterative process involving trial and error. Thankfully, each time a user interacts with the site, they generate lots of valuable data about what they need. Analyzing your site search can help you understand and act upon that data. By uncovering top searches, low-performing content, and popular products, among other metrics, you can adjust your relevance and even fill content gaps.

Site Search data presented on Algolia Dashboard

 

What if there are really “no results”?

Unfortunately, “no results” pages eventually do happen, even with well implemented site search. In these cases, it is important to drive users back to relevant content as quickly as possible and learn from those missed opportunities to improve future searches.

Recommending products throughout the search experience is a good way to prevent a bounce as users can quickly click a product rather than having to start their search over. Ideally, with sufficient user data, the recommended products should be contextually relevant and popular to increase the likelihood of click-through.

 Because search is an ongoing and iterative process, a “no results” pageview should be an additional data point to improve future implementation. Use your site search dashboard to regularly review searches that returned zero results. With that information, you can decide whether you need to tweak the search settings or create new content or product listings to better meet those needs. Whatever you decide, make sure the “no results” page is as optimized as possible in the meantime so you don’t lose valuable customers. 

 

How to provide the most relevant results to your users

“No results” pages are frustrating for both developers and end users. With a powerful, optimized  site-search solution, you can easily avoid this headache. 

Learn more about the benefits of optimizing search in our “Search Beyond the Box” ebooks for media and e-commerce.  See for yourself how you can improve the user experience and meet your business goals through intelligent search.

 

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