What’s the Failed Search Rate on Your Web Site?
By Terry Jukes, president, Ability Commerce

I had an interesting debate with a client the other day about internal site search failure rates for B-to-B catalogers. He asked me what I thought the acceptable rate of internal site search was. He suggested that 15 percent, 20 percent or even 25 percent was “normal.”

B-to-B marketers know the ease with which customers can find the product(s) they want when shopping on your site is key. Unlike their B-to-C counterparts, B-to-B marketers often have more than 100,000 items listed on their sites. Large B-to-B catalogers can have more than 500,000, and I know of at least one who has more than 1 million.

With that kind of large SKU offering, you need an effective site search functionality — by keyword, brand, price and any other variable that makes sense in your specific market. Some large B-to-B catalogers get more than 1 million internal site searches per month, so you can see how well you perform in this area is key to your online prospects and customers finding what they want on your site quickly and easily.

So, what is an acceptable failure rate on your internal site search? My answer is “next to zero” or “less than 1 percent.” Let me explain how I get there.

Your Web site’s administration tool should produce a report of the failed searches conducted on the site. That report can be done daily or weekly, depending on how well you’re doing. If you have a problem, make it daily until you get the problem fixed. Normally, you have a threshold for a failed search. For example, if a user types a nonsensical term because he incorrectly positioned his fingers on the QWERTY keyboard, that really shouldn’t count as a failed search. I suggest a threshold of three. In other words, a failed search term has to appear at least three times before it goes on the report for manual review. That usually gets rid of the nonsensical stuff.

If a failed search term appears more than three times, it probably warrants human review. Common mistakes include misspellings of brand or item names, especially with users where English isn’t their first language. For each failed but legitimate search term, create a redirect to the page you think the users wanted. If they wanted to know “shipping and handling (S&H) rates” and typed in “freight rates,” you’d most likely redirect them to your S&H information page. If they wanted “Lamborghini floor mats,” but spelled the brand name wrong, you wouldn’t hesitate to send them to the appropriate product page.

So, as you manually review failed search terms and build redirects, you fix that failed search term for future users. Over time — ideally no more than a month! — your redirect database builds and your search failure rate approaches statistical zero.

If you’re one of the B-to-B marketers not paying attention to this detail, you have a big opportunity before you. If you are paying attention to this detail, I’d love to know how you’re doing statistically.

---Source: Catalog Success Nov 11, 2008 newsletter ( Terence Jukes is president of Ability Commerce. He can be reached at










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