Online companies are often too focused on ‘search’ from an external site perspective. That is, how do we make our site’s pages visible from Google or Bing?

There’s another half to the ‘search’ jigsaw puzzle which is especially relevant on large ecommerce sites; how do your visitors find your products? Understanding the intent of your site visitors can lead to not only higher sales, but also valuable customer information. Web analytics guru AvinashKaushik wrote a fantastic post back in 2009 on this subject, you can read this post on the blog A List Apart.

DBG has made dozens of ecommerce websites for wholesalers and retailers alike in a diverse range of industries. We recently conducted research on 60 Australian Ecommerce stores to try and analyse how they use their internal search functionality. Just keep in mind, this isn’t the top 60 ecommerce sites in Australia.  The method was simply to run a few Google queries and extract relevant sites from a range of industries that had an SEOmoz domain authority greater than 25 (domain authority measures the strength of a website and its ability to rank in search engines).


Shops by Industry

There were eleven different industries in our study; albeit very heavily weighted towards the clothing niche (and sub niches).

Some of the big players that we analysed include Office Works, Dick Smiths, JB Hi Fi, Chemist Warehouse, Appliances Online, Crazy Sales & Style Tread.


% of Shops that have a Search Box

From the 60 stores analysed 52 (87%) of them have internal search functionality on the front page. This isn’t to say that the others don’t have search at all, it just could not be located on the front page. Here’s the data broken down by industry.

Whilst a small data set doesn’t reveal any real trends, if we take a look at the website with the highest domain authority that does not have a search box we find it’s one of the largest companies in Australia; David Jones.

Go on! Take a look. It’s quite a bizarre site structure; they’ve pushed back their online store to a sub folder. One of their pages “Catalogues” contains a search box however the “Shop Online” does not contains a search box.

Not the most user friendly website.


Placeholder Text Action

Let’s define the ‘Placeholder Text’ as the text which appears right in the search field that you replace with your search query (see the Kogan example below). We’re now going to focus on just the 52 websites which have search functionality, and analyse the ‘action’ (the verb) behind the ‘Placeholder Text’.

We categorized each placeholder text into an action and then averaged the domain authority; below are the results.

We can see that the placeholder text “Search” dominated with 50% of the 52 sites that have a search box. With an average domain authority of 44, it is also the same as websites which are absent of text in the search box.

Notably, there were only 3 stores (Westfield, Booktopia&ShoeShow) that had product specific placeholder text. “Search title, Author or ISBN” and “Search for Shoes” were two examples.

The only site which had placeholder text which was not an action was World of Pets; which utilises Google Site Search.


Call To Action Button

Our research also collected information based on the physical button of the search box. The idea was to research if and how stores are focusing on the user intent and driving them to use internal site functionality.

In some instances this was an image, text or a combination of text & image. The results are fairly straight forward:

For the 33 sites that have text as the call to action; what is the text?

Quite interesting that only two verbs have been used as a Call To Action on the website analysed. Can you think of anymore? “Find”, “Locate”, “Hunt”?


Location of the Search Box

Data was also collected on the basis of the location of the search box, and categorised into “Top-Left”, “Top-middle” or “Top-right” of the page.

The results are also mapped against the authority of the domain:

More than 50% of the time the search box has been situated in the Top-right of the page; however it appears that more authoritative websites place their search box Top-middle.

As stores become larger and more resources can be spent on website optimisation, perhaps Top-middle has proven to be the best location?


Tips & Trends


One of the biggest tips to offer to any online retailer is to make the search box clearly visible at the top of the page. If the user takes more than a micro second to locate the search box, you’ve potentially lost a sale. Make sure that the box clearly stands out amongst the rest of the design


There is nothing more frustrating than using internal search and being presented with “Sorry No Results found”. How good is your internal search? Is it searching the database of just product names? Or is it using category names, keyword content, tags, and user reviews? This functionality is usually driven by how robust your Content Management System is.


Website visitors need to be driven to perform an action, internal site search is no different. Our research has revealed that the ‘Placeholder Text’ is a valuable piece of real estate which can make the experience for your visitors more enjoyable. Generic text that doesn’t connect with your customers will frustrate them and they will move onto a competitor’s website.

We’re able to help with all aspects of your online store requirements, if you need some help on design, development or ecommerce data analysis, please get in touch!