Site Search vs Navigation: Which is more important?

61% of users won’t stay on your website if they can’t find what they’re looking for within five seconds

This stark reality prompts an important question for eCommerce managers: where should your optimization efforts begin—improving the search function or refining navigation? 

This article explores all of the details of Site Search vs Navigation, offering insights to help you make informed decisions for a smoother and more effective online user experience. 

If you prefer a quick recap of the site search vs navigation dilemma, check out our video below!

What is site search and how does it help users?

site navagation

In simple terms, the site search function on an eCommerce website enables users to enter a keyword or keywords to locate specific products or information.

The primary goal of the search feature is to make it effortless for users to quickly find what they’re looking for. 

This is particularly useful when users have a specific product or category in mind. 

For example, imagine visiting an online marketplace like Amazon and using the search bar to find the latest smartphone models, trendy fashion items, or deals on electronic gadgets – things you’re certain about.

Now, imagine navigating through eCommerce sites like Amazon or Etsy without an eCommerce search bar. 

It would be challenging to sift through the extensive range of products they offer. T

These platforms simplify the process by providing an eCommerce search bar, allowing users to efficiently find a particular item or category. 

Without this feature, you’d likely spend a considerable amount of time with little success.

Ultimately, the site search function on these eCommerce websites serves as a valuable tool to bring you closer to your goal. 

Even if you have to think of a descriptive search term and browse through a list of results, it’s a far more effective way to find the products you’re looking for compared to navigating without it. 

It’s a simple and convenient solution to quickly reach your desired destination while shopping online.

What is navigation and how does it help users?

what is navigation

Navigation is the tool that empowers users to explore the content of an eCommerce website. 

Visitors often turn to navigation elements when they’re not quite sure what they’re looking for or when they want to discover more about the offerings on a website.

Consider an online clothing store like Zara, for instance. If you’re in the mood for some shopping but don’t have a specific item in mind, using the search bar might not be the best option. 

Searching for a generic term like “clothes” could yield a broad list of results. Instead, you’d likely use the navigation menu to explore categories like “Women’s,” “Men’s,” or “Accessories,” helping you refine your search and find what you’re interested in.

Now, let’s imagine you’re on an electronics eCommerce site like Best Buy. 

Suppose you’re in the market for a new gadget but haven’t decided on the exact model. 

Using the search bar may lead to a flood of results. In this case, the navigation menu, perhaps with categories like “Smartphones,” “Laptops,” or “Wearables,” becomes your go-to tool to efficiently browse and narrow down your options.

Search and Navigation Statistics

Site Search Statistics

Approximately 30% of users prefer employing the search engine as their primary method of site navigation

This shows the importance of having an advanced site search function so that your users can quickly locate specific products or information. 

Notably, over 50% of eCommerce sales are directly attributed to customers who actively use the search bar. 

This statistical insight emphasizes the impact of an optimized site search feature on driving conversions and enhancing user experiences.

Navigation Statistics

Upon initial interaction with a website, 38% of users focus on the overall layout and navigational links

This demonstrates the immediate significance of a visually intuitive and well-organized structure. 

Additionally, 94% of users express a preference for easy navigation, considering it the most valuable aspect of their online experience. 

This statistic highlights the crucial role of clear and user-friendly navigation in capturing and retaining user engagement.

Types of Search Queries: Search vs Navigation

Navigational Search Queries

A navigational search query is when users utilize search to navigate a website with the specific intent of reaching a particular section of the site.

For example, imagine you want to check your order history on an online clothing store. 

You use the search bar not to find products but to navigate directly to the “Order History” section, typing “Order History” as your query.

Informational Search Queries

Informational search queries are made when users seek answers or want to understand how to do something. 

For example, imagine you’re interested in learning about the benefits of organic skincare. 

Using the search bar on a beauty products website, you enter “Benefits of Organic Skincare” to gather information rather than make a purchase.

Transactional Search Queries

Transactional search queries are carried out with the purpose of completing an action, such as making a purchase. 

For example, imagine you’ve decided to buy a new camera. 

Using the search bar on an electronics store’s website, you type “Buy Canon EOS R5” with the clear intention of completing a purchase, making it a transactional query.

How to optimize site search and navigation

When it comes to optimizing your site’s search functionality, a few strategic moves can make a world of difference. 

Here are some tips to elevate your navigational search game:

Search Search Optimization Tips

1. Autocomplete Users’ Search Queries

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Implementing autocomplete in your site’s search functionality is like having a helpful assistant that anticipates your needs. 

As users begin typing their queries, the system suggests relevant search terms in real-time. 

For example, if a customer starts typing “running shoes,” the autocomplete feature might instantly display options like “running shoes for men,” “best running shoes,” or “Nike running shoes.” 

This not only saves time for the user but also guides them to more specific and relevant search results, creating a smoother navigation search experience.

2. Support Non-Product Searches

site search function

Transforming your search bar into a versatile tool that can handle non-product queries is a game-changer. 

Beyond searching for specific products, users may seek information on sales, return policies, or store locations. 

By enabling your search bar to understand and respond to these queries, you turn it into a comprehensive navigation tool. 

For instance, a user can easily find information about ongoing sales or locate the nearest store directly from the search bar, enhancing their overall navigation search experience.

3. Add Promotional Banners

website search feature

Incorporating promotional banners in your search results adds a visual element to guide users. 

For instance, during a holiday sale, you can display a banner highlighting discounts on specific categories. 

This not only draws attention to promotions but also directs users to relevant sections of your site. 

Banners act as navigational signposts, assisting users in discovering sales, essential categories, or crucial pages like returns and shipping policies, effectively blending promotion with navigation search.

4. Include a Guided Search Feature

browse vs search

A guided search feature acts as a personalized assistant for users navigating your online store. By asking users a series of questions related to their preferences or requirements, the system narrows down search results based on their responses. 

For instance, a clothing retailer might use guided search to help users find the perfect dress by asking about color, size, and style preferences. 

This feature streamlines the navigation search process, making it easier for users to pinpoint exactly what they’re looking for.

5. Prioritize Search Results

navigational search

Customizing the visibility of top products in search results enhances navigation by emphasizing what matters most. 

This could involve showcasing bestsellers, new arrivals, or items on promotion. 

For example, if a customer searches for “laptops,” the search results could prominently display the latest and top-rated laptops, streamlining the navigation search process by presenting users with the most relevant and popular choices right away.

6. Support Synonyms and Typos

search navigation

Users might not always enter the correct terms when searching, but a well-optimized search system understands synonyms and typos. 

For instance, if a user searches for “sneakers,” the system recognizes the typo and suggests results for “trainers.” 

This flexibility in understanding user input ensures that even if there are minor errors, users can still find the products they’re looking for, contributing to a more forgiving and user-friendly navigation search experience.

7. Personalize Search Recommendations

navigation search

Leveraging AI to understand user behavior allows for highly personalized search recommendations

For example, if a user frequently searches for “running shoes,” the system might start recommending specific brands or styles based on their preferences. 

This level of personalization not only aids users in finding what they want more efficiently but also enhances the overall navigation experience by offering tailored suggestions that align with their individual preferences and shopping history.

Navigation Optimization Tips

When it comes to navigating your website, a few strategic tweaks can significantly enhance the user experience. 

Check out these Navigation Optimization tips to ensure your visitors find their way seamlessly:

  • Boost conversions by optimizing your collection pages: Organize products logically, for instance, categorize clothes by type or occasion. Use high-quality images and add concise, compelling product descriptions. Enable easy filtering options, like size or color, to enhance user experience and boost conversions.
  • Create a user-friendly and helpful mobile navigation menu with CRO buttons: Design a clean, concise mobile menu with easy-to-tap buttons. For example, if you’re selling clothing, have buttons like “Shop Men” or “Shop Women.” Make sure it’s effortless to navigate with a single thumb, providing a smooth path for users to explore and purchase.
  • Enhance your footer section optimization: In your footer, include essential links like “Contact Us,” “FAQs,” and “Shipping Information.” Add your social media icons for a quick connection. Include a sitemap for easy navigation. For instance, an e-commerce site can have links to “New Arrivals” or “Clearance” for quick access.
  • Incorporate social media links: Strategically place social media icons in the header or footer. For example, if you’re a fashion brand, showcase your Instagram feed directly on the website. Encourage users to follow for exclusive updates or promotions.
  • Implement responsive design: Utilize a responsive design framework like Bootstrap. Test your website on various devices, ensuring elements rearrange appropriately. For example, use media queries to adjust font sizes or image placements for a clean look on both desktop and mobile.
  • Utilize a ‘quick view’ and pop-out cart: Implement a ‘Quick View’ feature that allows users to see product details without leaving the page. Add a pop-out cart for easy management. For instance, an online bookstore can let users quickly view book details and add them to the cart without going to a separate page.
  • Optimize your site’s main menu: Prioritize categories in your main menu. For an electronics store, feature categories like “Smartphones” or “Laptops” prominently. Add visuals like icons to make it visually appealing and guide users intuitively through the site.
  • Implement dropdown menus: Use dropdown menus for detailed navigation. For instance, under “Clothing,” have dropdowns for “Men’s” and “Women’s” categories. This prevents overcrowding and simplifies the user’s journey, making it easier to find specific items.

Which should you optimize first – search or navigation?

As you navigate the course of website enhancement, the decision between boosting site search or refining navigation isn’t a battle; it’s a collaboration.

So, where do you begin – site search or navigation? The answer rests on your website’s size and purpose. 

For smaller sites with straightforward navigation, start by perfecting how users explore. For more complex or data-rich platforms, kick off with fine-tuning the search experience.

Success online depends on catering to users who search for specifics and those who love to browse. 

Striking the right chord between a polished search and smooth navigation ensures users relish an optimal online experience. 

In your journey toward digital improvement, remember, it’s not an either-or scenario; it’s about orchestrating a symphony of both.