According to some statistics 40% or even 60% of visitors arriving at a website use the search engine of the site as the first thing they do after arriving there. If the visitor is focused and has a concrete plan for a purchase then the search engine of the web shop is the biggest help for him or her.
The more products the web shop sells – concerning either the volume of items or the number of categories, the bigger the role of the search engine. Furthermore, the search is also important when the product supply is very similar, when the decision is not made by obvious outside parameters (e.g. if. a web shop sells printer cartridges, where the name of the product or a photo is not enough for the decision).
The most obvious search function is the quick search where by writing the searched expression we can find it straight away. In the case of a well designed web shop system the search looks for the expression in the name, the short and longer descriptions of the products and even in the list of key words by using some kind of taxonomy system. The quick search has to be accessible from each page. It should be practically part of the site and not listed separately on a sub-page, additionally its usage should not require more clicks.
If there are many categories it is expedient to complement the quick search with a category filter that enables the visitor to choose the category he wants to search in from a roll down menu. It is useful in the case of electrical items because the name of a camera is really similar to the name of a scanner or a printer. But the most effective search is designed for a concrete product supply and it is possible to search by the parameters of the product. This can be carried out at specialized web shops but not at general ones.
Let us think of the recently mentioned web shop selling printer cartridges, where it is more efficient to choose the type of printer – we can probably give this information – from a drop down list rather than to write the name of the cartridge into the search. Supposedly the customer does not know the exact name of the cartridge so it requires some previous research in which time he might find the website of our competitor.
To mention a less specific example, in the case of a toy store, search by age or gender or even by price could be very useful a lot of the time. This could also be useful for a general web shop with a wide range of products.