Analysis: Searching for ROI

Ebusinesses around the world are working under tight budget constraints this year, forcing many companies to put off major Web site investments. As a result, ebusinesses are looking for ways to cut costs and to do more with less. Fortunately, there are many ways to improve your site with a minimal investment. For example, consider the return on investment (ROI) form improving your site's search results.

Why Search

Search is a Web site function that many companies don't take seriously. Search engine vendors that I've talked to say that as few as 20% of ebusinesses tune their search engines for effective results. Usability consultant Jared Spool goes so far as to argue that "on-site searching stinks".

This is an unfortunate development because search results have a profound effect on your site's usability. They can also directly affect your company's bottom line.

A basic ROI evaluation of search improvements must consider threethings: costs of improvements, cost savings, and new revenue.

Costs

How much will it cost you to improve your search results? Most companies can make huge improvements with a small time investment. I've seen companies get great search results with as little as 10 hours a month dedicated to search.

Here's a general process for improving search results:

1. Examine your Web server log files to determine the most popular search requests.

2. Test the popular search requests and evaluate the results.

3. Modify page content and Meta tags to improve search results.

4. Improve your site navigation to reduce searches on these terms.

5. Repeat periodically to maximize the benefits and stay current.

By focusing on the top search requests, you maximize the benefit of your efforts. If you fix the top 25 to 50 search requests, then you'll fix the searches that affect the most people. Small, targeted work often results in dramatic improvements. Larger investments in search can make even bigger improvements, but will be tougher to justify.

Revenues

Providing good search results can contribute directly to your sales. Obviously, if people can't find what they want on your site, they will go elsewhere. For many ebusinesses, this means the loss of a sale. By controlling your search results, you can direct your customers to the pages where they are most likely to find what they are looking for. This minimizes the loss of revenue caused by customers not finding what they want.

Many companies look at search queries as a sales opportunity, too. By controlling search results, they make sure that customers are presented with an opportunity to buy a specific product. When you perform a search on Google, Google checks your search terms against a table of advertisers and keywords and presents relevant advertisements. These advertisements are a product that Google sells when you click on them. Google doesn't waste your time with random ads, but just shows you ones that are likely to interest you.

In the same way, many companies can use search requests to direct customers to product information. Whether you present the information as a link in your search results, or as a cross-sell advertisement, the results are the same: you deliver highly targeted information to interested customers.

Savings

Your search results can create savings for your company in several ways. Consider the cost of handling a customer's question via your Web site versus handling it as a phone call. Forrester Research has pegged the average price of a phone support call at about $30. The cost of a Web self-help incident is around $0.25. So, every time you can answer a question via your Web site instead of your call center, you're saving about $30. Your company's costs will vary, obviously, but there are clearly big savings to be had by answering your customer's questions via the Web.

Many companies also handle a large number of emails and support calls that result from their Web site. Your customers may call or email because they can't get logged in, they don't know how to change their email address, or they can't find what they need. These calls represent a lost opportunity to help people through your site. Improving your search makes it easier for people to do what they want on your site, reducing your Web site support costs.

Searching for ROI

Not every company will be able to find a clear ROI for search improvements. However, most ebusiness can get big returns on their site investments by looking carefully at small, targeted site improvements.

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