At this point in the game, there should be no doubt about how relevant search engines are (especially in online stores with millions of reference numbers). And experience tells me that the Internet has relegated the internal search engine to oblivion. We need only browse some of the main online stores in the world to see how little they help us find what we are looking for.
After having used hundreds of search engines in my life and doing in-depth research into the search engines of 30 large-scale stores in the United States, Spain and Chile, I have come up with what I think the perfect search engine should be like:
- It needs to be located in a visible, set page on each page, if possible in the upper left-hand corner with a search box which will hold about 25 characters (see how visible it is in Overstock);
- The results of the search should follow the guidelines of the main search engines (we need not re-invent the wheel) and should display what the user needs in order of relevance (see how Buy.com recommends products and shows us which products have been purchased as a result of a specific search);
- It should obviously allow us to perform compound searches (see how JC Penney links compound searches with simple searches);
- It should help to correct spelling mistakes, accents, synonyms? (try writing ?jewelyr? in WalMart);
- The user should be able to configure and customise it: sort by price, availability, brand, etc. (see how Overstock allows you to sort the search by how much money you can save);
- Users should be able to tailor the format in which the results are presented: as a list, with pictures, in detail, summary, etc. (go to Buy.com to see how many ways of viewing the results of a search it offers);
- It should suggest search terms to the user while he/she is writing in the search field (see in the image how helpful Buy.com?s searching system.)
- It should suggest alternatives if there are no results (see how Target presents Panasonic products when we enter Panasonic + a non-existent model);
- It should provide an advanced search by features search engine (see, once again how Buy.com deals with this for television sets, cameras or computers) and ultimately should also have configurers which will provide guidance for the user to find the product which will best suit his/her requirements (see, on Buy.com, the different product recommendations offered by Guidester.com);
- Finally, it should automatically remind the people responsible for the Internet in the company which searches it has been unable to answer and show the behaviour logic for the main searches and how to highlight certain products (for example, the latest models or products on sale).
Intuition tells me that the maturity of an Internet website is directly proportional to how good its search engine is. The longer we use the Internet and the more money it moves shows us how important it is to take the time and effort to design the perfect internal search engine.