Considering and Optimizing for Customer Searches

So, your SEO and / or PPC investment has paid off and you finally have steady traffic landing on your e-commerce site. Better still – your visitors aren’t bouncing – they’re viewing multiple pages before they either convert on the terms and products they came for or exit back out into the webiverse. Here are some tips for turning that exit into a revolving door and maximizing sales to the customers who came with the intention of buying anyway.

Imaginary Example

Let’s imagine an e-commerce store, run by you and I, that sells… puzzles. One of our top selling products is a fairy jigsaw puzzle, and every day we ship a dozen or so of these products. Because we’re good SEO-ers and traffic researchers, we refer to Google Analytics and see that we get a lot of traffic from Google’s natural results for searches related to “fairy puzzle” and related phrases. Traffic looks good, people are buying what they came for, and things appear to be on the up and up. Aside from selling more fairy puzzles to more fairy puzzle lovers, what more can we do? Quite a bit, actually.

Your site’s “Search” box is a two-way mirror. Not only does it provide the customer with a list of things they can potentially spend their money on, but it also gives you insight into what the customer is looking for – whether you carry it or not. An erroneous mindset that many store owners find themselves in is making the assumption that a customer’s purchase reflects their buying intentions. Although this is the natural conclusion we tend to draw, it’s often fairly distanced from the truth.

Let’s go back to our fairy puzzles, and you and I thinking that we can’t improve on the situation any further. We’ve got our store running on Volusion’s e-commerce platform and CMS. In the Reporting section of our Admin back end, we can click on Search Terms and view a sortable, real-time list of terms that the customer has passed through our site’s integrated search function. Again, these are words that have been typed into our site’s internal search function, not words typed into Google.

We sort by total searches, confident of what we’ll see, and are mystified to see that, not only is “fairy puzzle” not the most internally searched product on our site, but it’s behind a product that we don’t even carry!

Here’s the breakdown for our puzzle shop:

Search Term Total Searches
1) dragon puzzle 4722
2) puzzle glue 3646
3) fairy puzzle 2252
73) invisible puzzle piece 17

Here’s what we can learn from our internal search report:

Dragon Puzzle – We carry this product, but when your nephew set up the product database, he spelled Dragon as “Dragin.” It’s time to fix this so that customers can find it on searches. Or – maybe there’s something we can do so that customers don’t have to search for it at all.

Puzzle Glue – We sell puzzles, but not puzzle glue. Ugh. Time to stock this product so that our customers can buy it; they obviously want it!

Fairy Puzzle – Our top selling product, but similar to the Dragon Puzzle – maybe we could sell even more of them if people didn’t have to take the time to search for it.

Real World Application

In the example above, we can see that customer purchases don’t always reflect their intentions. Since our customer couldn’t find dragon puzzles, maybe they purchased fairy puzzles instead – or maybe they left the site entirely.

In either case, knowing what product the customer is looking for is the first step in providing that product. Google Analytics is a good guide, but it won’t reflect the search queries executed by the customer once they do reach your page. For that, we utilize the shopping cart software’s internal search reporting.

Now that we know what the customer is looking for, let’s look at how we can provide that content in the most immediate manner, requiring the fewest browsing / searching steps.

Side and Banner Ads

Let’s take a look at a front page side ad campaign being run on In this campaign, I’ve used Volusion’s internal site search reporting to identify my top searched-for products on These are my money makers, and I want to be sure that the customer has no problem finding them. I create categories for these products under the appropriate parent categories – like “Floyd Rose” under “Brands” – and assign my products to these new categories.

My next step is to create small ad buttons for my sidebar. For the sake of saving real estate, I’ll occasionally use JavaScript to rotate some of the ads in and out, while keeping my high-click ads static.

Next, I use the ROI click feature in Volusion to create trackable suffixes that are appended to the end of my ad image links. This enables me to track the clicks and conversion rate on my highly-searched terms. Here’s a trackable link to the Floyd Rose category I just mentioned:

Finally, I back up all my data and make my changes.

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Putting the [Puzzle] Pieces Together

Let’s conclude back at our imaginary puzzle store. Using our campaign at Allparts as guide, the following checklist will make our puzzle store much more accessible for customers and profitable for us:

Products – Along with the fairy and dragon puzzles, use the store’s internal search records to identify other existing products with high sell-through potential. Also identify and consider stocking products that are not currently part of your inventory; complimentary products like the puzzle glue are an excellent example.

Ads / Banners – Create catchy, relevant image ads and place them properly on your sidebar(s), allowing for visibility no matter what page the customer navigates to. Since we’re dealing with an e-commerce site, and likely taking credit card payments, we’ll need to take secure HTTPS and SSL-related linking into account. As with any content on an e-commerce site, use relative links to material on your own site, or host your images on a secure cloud platform like Amazon S3.

Categories and Landing Pages
– If necessary, create new product categories (or clone existing categories) and associate your products with them. Use these new categories as landing pages for your side ads, and don’t forget to include some relevant text in your visible category description; a few sentences describing the products that you’ve just launched the customer into will help greatly.

Track it – Use your shopping cart provider’s built-in link tracking system to append trackable link suffixes. This is an important step because it will provide conversion data. If your cart provider doesn’t support this functionality, be sure to contact me for assistance in setting it up with third party tools.

Follow up – Don’t pull the trigger on this campaign and expect heat-seekers; you will need to monitor the effectiveness of each one of your ads. Adjusting the placement and order of the ads can impact the click-through rate, and your landing pages, product descriptions, and a number of other factors can affect your conversions. In time, it may be necessary to remove dud ads in favor of other potential money makers. Consider the extremely low conversion rate on my Gift Certificate ad – I will have to think carefully and weigh my options as to whether or not that ad, or a different product, should take up valuable real estate around the holiday season.

Keep these tips in mind when building or overhauling your site to give your store the extra edge in a competitive market.

About Dean Peckenpaugh

Dean offers small business consulting services at DeanP, LLC - specializing in e-commerce and operations. Visit the contact page to request a consultation.