The search function in your online shop as a digital customer advisor

search function
Author: Haydar Yuece // 8min

Compared to online shopping, stationary stores have the advantage of being able to support their customers directly at the store when searching for products and advise them on their selection. In an online shop, this service is provided by a smart search function. The search function is one of the most important elements in an online shop. It is your virtual service employee who helps visitors find products, assists them with product selection and accompanies them on the way to purchase.

“Hiring” such a clever employee not only significantly improves the customer experience, but also increases the conversion rate and thus your sales in the long term. There is great potential in the design and optimization of the search function, which is still hidden in many online shops.

In this article, we will show you how important the search function is for your online shop and tell you how to use this intelligent tool correctly.

What is the search function?

The search function is one of the central operating elements in an online shop and should make it easier to find products. Usually it is located in the upper area as an input field – connected to the navigation. The search function can be recognized in many online shops by the symbol of a magnifying glass.

Many visitors who enter a website instinctively use the tool to find a particular product. However, this does not mean that the customer really knows what he wants. Most visitors come to an online shop with a vague idea, a spontaneous thought, or based on hearsay, expecting the search function to provide the right input. This turns the search function into a product advisor, so to speak.

Why is the search function so important for online shops?

Around 66% of respondents state that they would like to see search functions and filter options in an online shop. A large e-commerce study shows it even more clearly. In this, 80% of respondents stated that they considered the search function to be particularly important. According to the survey, a full 30% of visitors leave a page immediately if the search function does not provide them with the desired results. This means that not only no search function, but also an inadequate search function results in dissatisfied customers, increases the bounce rate and reduces sales.

Certainly not every website needs a search function. In the service sector or on pure blog sites, the search function is a “nice to have”, but in the rarest cases it is decisive. Here, a sensible and clear navigation is usually sufficient. Things are different in an online shop. Here, the search function is essential, because the product categories in the navigation bar are far from sufficient to satisfy user expectations.

Due to the massive increase in online shopping, the continuous expansion of a comprehensive range of goods and the limited time of customers, the search function has become immensely important.

What you should consider for a powerful search function

The first step is to offer customers a search function in an online shop at all. However, the second and more important step is to use it correctly. The standard search function of shop systems can be individually extended with coordinated search tools, making it significantly more functional. But what is important for a search function?

1. Make the search function input field quickly accessible

Place your search function in a way that customers can find it immediately. Ideally, embed the input field prominently in the upper area near the navigation. Choose the middle or the right side here. This corresponds to the usual position. Make the search function stand out a bit visually as well. Classically, the magnifying glass icon supports the labeling.

2. Create an overview of search results

The search results of a search query should be clearly structured, consistent and logical. A visual representation of the search results is possible and often desired in form of product tiles, among other things. A tidy design with the most relevant product information helps visitors gain a quick overview without having to go directly to the product page. Alternatives to product tiles are grid or list displays, which are, however, less common.

3. Ensure filter function and sorting

For better orientation, a search function is supplemented with a filter function, also called after search navigation, and sorting. Why this is so important? An excessive number of search hits simply overwhelms visitors.

With filters, they narrow down the search independently and according to individual standards. This can be a simple filter or a facet search. With the facet search, the customer has a particularly large selection of filter options, so that the search query is specialized down to the smallest detail. When the search is triggered, only those products that match the specified filter properties are displayed.

Example: A customer searching for “T-shirt” in an online shop using the search function will receive a large number of search results. Using the filter function, he or she can refine the search by specifying size, color and/or brand.

Tip: Always display the number of search results directly. These are usually listed in brackets after the product and create improved orientation.

A search function should also ensure that customers can sort the results themselves according to their requirements. The sorts are predefined in the online shop and in most cases offer sorting by price, customer rating, relevance, date or novelties.

4. Use suggestion function

Google demonstrates it: the suggestion function for a smart search. Autosuggest ensures that the search function suggests suitable terms while the user is still typing, which the user can click on immediately. The suggestions appear below the input field. This saves the customer time and effort.

5. Set to an error-tolerant search

It often happens that search terms in the search function are not entered in the correct spelling or typos creep in. Nothing is more frustrating than landing on a zero-hit page. A good search function is able to detect typos, misspellings, singular and plural, and other spellings and still return the correct results. The same applies to keyword combinations and search queries that are directly linked to properties of a product. A smart search function puts the information into context and plays out the right result.

6. Consider Mobile First

Any search function today should also work smoothly on all mobile devices. Here, it is important to pay attention to the deviating display:

  • Set search suggestions, filters and error tolerance
  • Place search field prominently next to customer login and shopping cart and mark with magnifying glass symbol
  • Deactivate auto-correction
  • Possibility to send a request via button and keyboard
  • User-friendly size of input field, buttons and search results

We have 7 tips that lead to success in mobile commerce.

7. Play out search results in a personalized way

Autosuggest, error tolerance, and filters are all part of today’s standard search function. If you want to offer your customers more than perhaps your competitors do, rely on an intelligent search function that can play out automated and personalized search results. For this purpose, artificial intelligence examines and analyzes the customer’s navigation, click and shopping behavior and takes the information gained into account when displaying the search results. This means that only products that are really relevant to the customer are displayed.

8. Support visitors in a targeted way

You can support the search function with additional measures and tools. Embed product recommendations on the search results pages as an extension to the search query. These can be similar products, recommendations from other customers or the bestsellers.

Basically, it is important to avoid that a search function leaves the customer “running in the void” with a search query. In such a situation, it is important to offer the user alternative paths and show him how he can now get ahead. This can be done by displaying selected products, tips for suitable search terms or the implementation of exit intent popups like the one from uptain.

The uptain® ALGORITHMUS provides a personalized exit intent popup at the right moment, e.g. when the customer is stuck with his query via the search function and wants to leave the page, thus supporting him in overcoming the barriers.

Take advantage of the smart search function

With the search function, you meet the demands of your customers, increase the conversion rate and thus increase your sales. What is and remains important here is consistent monitoring and post-optimization. Search functions are becoming smarter and more adaptive. Use this potential for your online shop. Make sure that search queries do not lead to zero hit pages, but always offer alternatives. With the filter function, you make it easier for your visitors in self-service to individually refine the results – just like the staff in stationary retail does.

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