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5 Tips for Improving On-Site Search Results Using Magento and Apache SOLR

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Magento Commerce, Search Engine Optimization – SEO

The user experience related to on-site search, especially on-site search for an eCommerce site, couldn’t be more valuable. I’m sure you’ve seen data that shows how much more valuable a visitor who searches your site is vs. one that doesn’t, but in case you haven’t I’ll give you the Coles notes. It’s ridiculous! Users who use on-site search convert at an exponentially higher rate than users who don’t! EXPONENTIAL CONVERSION! That being said, the return on investing in creating the best possible user experience for those site-searchers is incredibly high.

Luckily, with a bit of work in setup and configuration (note: not development) you can get a pretty decent search experience going to provide to your audience to enable them to find what they are looking for!

Built into Magento, there are a variety of tools available to you in order to accomplish this. Specifically, we will be discussing those that are available with the Enterprise Edition, however some of these will also be available for the Community Edition with the concepts overreaching towards all eCommerce platforms. Before we dig into the 5 tips for improving your on-site search – deepen your skill set in Magento by becoming a Certified Solutions Specialist! Download our free study guide below to help you become certified:

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Tip 1: Create redirects for obvious search terms and their matching results on your site

Before diving into the configuration details, here is a real world example: As a site manager, you see from your search history that there are a lot of searches for “car seat” and you have a category landing page dedicated to car seats. This is an excellent opportunity to create a redirect so that your users that use this search term are then directed straight to the landing page, especially if this landing page is curated with the best selling and/or most popular items.

In doing so, you are guiding users to a category page which will then give them the ability to see a much ‘richer’ experience as these pages provide the opportunity to showcase static block content (banners), full faceted sub-category and reductive attribute navigation as if they were using the standard category menu navigation. This can be especially useful if catalog/category rules are in place as these are typically category specific (as opposed to displaying products that may not land into a particular promotion).

To accomplish this in Magento…

1. Navigate to Catalog -> Search Terms
2. Either browse the list of Related Search Terms that are already captured on the site (click Edit beside the term) or Add New Search Term in the top right corner

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3. Specify the Redirect URL that you would like to guide customers to

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4. Save Search

Tip 2: Make sure SOLR is indexing relevant attributes

SOLR is a very powerful tool in Magento with a standard install and configuration, however it is essential to define the attributes that are going to be indexed and included in search results! To help work through this process, think of what information will be relent to your users that are browsing the site. For example: is the weight of an article of clothing going to be something that your customers are going to be searching for? Probably not. Colour or brand on the other hand will definitely be items that they will be looking for!

Related: Mini Tutorial – Solr Startup Script

One strategy that can be used for trying to discover this is take a focus group that is not familiar with your site (but with the industry) and ask them what attributes of a product are important for you to know about and would be looking for? Another may be to go into a brick and mortar location and think of how you typically browse the store – do you look at the material of clothing that you are looking to purchase?

When first enabling SOLR, there are no items that automatically switch to ‘searchable’ and thus included in the index. This is why it is very important to think of the step above and really dive into what items that you want to have included in search and indexed.

Even if you are not utilizing SOLR, this is very easy to set up in Magento (will apply to CE as well!), just follow the steps below:

1. Navigate to Catalog -> Attributes -> Manage Attributes
2. Select the attribute that you want to include in the index
3. Within Frontend Properties, update >Use in Quick Search to Yes

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4. Save Attribute

Tip 3: Assign weights to the attributes that SOLR searches

It’s important to assign weights to the attributes that SOLR searches to make sure low-level terms aren’t being given the same priority as higher-value terms.

One of the advantages to using SOLR over the built in Magento search function is that there is the ability to assign weighting to each specific attribute that is a part of your product catalog. This will allow your users to see improved relevance in the results that are presented when they use the search functionality to find the products that they are looking for.

Related: Mini Tutorial – Searching by SKU with Solr (BONUS: using Stop words)

An example of this would be that if you are a multi-brand retailer you probably get a lot of searches that contain brand keywords. This is a great time to make sure that your brand attribute in Magento has a heavier weight than perhaps your free-form production description that may contain words or phrases that are more generic and will span across multiple products.

This is quite a simple configuration task to implement using the following steps (note that a priority of 5 will have a greater priority than 1).

1. Navigate to Catalog -> Attributes -> Manage Attributes
2. Select the attribute that you want to specify the weight for
3. Within Frontend Properties, update Search Weight to the desired value

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4. Save Attribute

Tip 4: Enable Search Filtering for further result reduction

If your site has quite a large catalog, more than likely users will be presented with a relatively expansive list of potential search results. This can be optimized with the correct attribute weighting as outlined above, however it is now commonplace to have reductive navigation options presented on the left hand side of the page (similar to that of typical category navigation).

Ensuring that the reductive navigation is working properly is absolutely key to a great search user experience as this will allow for them to refine their results even further to find exactly what they are looking for!

A point to note in Magento is that attributes will have separate configuration options to appear in category vs search listing pages. Make sure that those that are selected for inclusion in category navigation are the same that are displayed in the search results to present a consistent user experience.

Tip 5: Implementation of User Synonyms

In addition to creating redirects for common search terms, there is also the ability to add synonyms for search queries so that users will be presented with terms that are more commonly used across your catalog. For example if the term ‘suitcase’ is not commonly used in attributes that are indexed in search, you can have this as a synonym for ‘luggage’ if that is a very common term used in product names and descriptions (assuming that these are available to be searched). To make this even more powerful, include a redirect to the appropriate link where you want to have your customers go!

A point to note is that this will be most beneficial after there is historical data of search terms to analyze so that you can see what is happening on your site and the behaviours of customers. We would recommend to revisit this on a monthly basis as external trends will have an influence (new products names, catchphrases, marketing efforts and a changing product catalog).

In Magento these can be configured in the Search Terms menu (Catalog -> Search Terms).

An example of the luggage use case listed above is as follows:

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Final Thoughts

To close things off, the above will only work if it is an ongoing aspect of your site operation and management! Your site is not a Showtime Rotisserie and can just ‘Set it and forget it!’ – you will need to look to revisit what you have in place at least once a quarter to make sure that the configuration that is in place and still relevant to the current market. Examine the Search Terms list and focus on those terms with the greatest Number of Uses to make sure that customers are being directed where they need to go to convert and adjust based on new products, categories or changes in customer behaviour!

Become a Magento Certified Solutions Specialist just like me! I created a complete study guide for you to download, for free:

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