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Onsite Mobile Search is More Important than Ever

3 years ago

By Ramesh Patel

Since Google announced their shift to mobile-first indexing, the online community has been in a frenzy to relay what this means and how best site managers can ready themselves 1. This is a critical issue, and the end is admittedly nigh for unresponsive sites. However, new research indicates that we should also be focusing on the other half of mobile search i.e. onsite search on mobile devices.

Site search is well known to punch above its weight. According to a Forrester Research report, 43% of site visitors “navigate immediately to the search box, while searchers are 2-3x more likely to convert” than those who don’t use search 2. Other sources posit closer to a 5-6x lift 3. And from a data perspective, site search gives us immediate, unmediated access to the minds of users. What could be more valuable than that?

Yet the efforts to optimize site search haven’t adequately prioritized the role that mobile now plays in our lives. In a study of device usage by Google, 80% of people used a smartphone amongst other devices, and 27% used a smartphone exclusively 4. Moreover, in an average day, almost 40% of people searched only on a smartphone. So where are the conversions?


Onsite search may be one culprit. A new study of mobile commerce shows that 70% of mobile shoppers prefer to use site search rather than site navigation or even organic search. This gives onsite mobile search an unprecedentedly pivotal role in the customer journey, on a mass scale. It also amplifies what we already know about mobile users’ heightened intent and urgency; rather than travel through the navigation flow, they want to get results by the fastest means possible.

The propensity to use site search also suggests that mobile users are less interested in top-of-the-funnel activities like product discovery or content browsing, but are instead fast-tracking their way to specific information and/or transactions. This tallies well with the 82% of smartphone users who consult their phones in store 5. Site search on mobile may be the penultimate step before purchase. This isn’t something we can ignore.

It is therefore extremely troubling that onsite mobile search is failing customers. A study by Unbxd reveals that mobile shoppers are 74% more likely to exit a site because of a poor search experience than desktop shoppers. As mobile contributes 57% of volume to site search, these exit rates cannot be dismissed. Google paints an even bleaker picture, saying that only 9% of users will stay on a mobile site if it doesn’t satisfy their needs—top needs being finding information or navigating quickly 6.

The irony is, of course, that “mobile first” has become a mainstay of our digital lexicon, and ubiquitous in marketing agendas around the world. Yet it would seem that many brands and retailers have neglected to direct customer optimization where it is most palpably needed.

1 http://searchengineland.com/faq-google-mobile-first-index-262751
2 https://searchenginewatch.com/2016/05/03/how-to-use-site-search-to-improve-conversion
3 http://conversionxl.com/convert-visitors-improving-internal-site-search
4 https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/articles/device-use-marketer-tips.html
5 https://think.storage.googleapis.com/docs/micromoments-guide-to-winning-shift-to-mobile-download.pdf
6 https://think.storage.googleapis.com/docs/micromoments-guide-to-winning-shift-to-mobile-download.pdf

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