7 Sources for Tweaking Your Site Search Thesaurus

It’s recommended that you tweak your search tool to recognize misspellings, synonyms and even terms of products you don’t carry so you can show similar results.

For example, one of the top 10 best paid search terms for Walmart is “prevacid.” It’s likely a very common search term on the site as well. But if you misspell the anti-indigestion drug, you might choke on the “zero results found” message you receive:

If many people are searching for “prevasid” on the site, that could turn into a lot of lost business for Wally-mart.

Trouble is, there’s no automated way to do this – there’s no universal thesaurus that can predict all the terms you should include in your search dictionary that considers brand / product names and industry-specific terms. You must do it manually.

Naturally, the first source is your site search logs. Identify searches with “0 results found” and see what existing search terms they can map to, and adjust your search tool’s vocabulary to accommodate them.

But this only helps for searches that have already occurred. You want to also be proactive for your most important products. So, in addition to site search logs, you can use any of these 6 additional resources:

1. Keyword research tools like Google Keyword Tool, Wordstream, Wordtracker or Keyword Discovery.

2. Customer reviews (both yours and “theirs”), which helps you understand what product attributes are important to customers and may identify long-tail opportunities

3. Competitors’ descriptions and title tags – they may know something you don’t know based on their own research and data.

4. SpyFu, a paid search competitive intelligence tool shows you what your competitors are bidding on in PPC campaigns. You can take out a one day membership for just a few dollars.

5. Use the Google Analytics hack that shows you the long tail terms Google is matching your ads to. You might find some gems in your paid keyword referrals. Update: Google Adwords has changed its Analytics reporting, you no longer need this hack. Find this data with Traffic Sources>Adwords>Keywords>Matched Search Query> and refine by Match Type or Keyword.

6. Brainstorm. Sometimes you can come up with misspelling ideas that don’t show up in the above tools. Ask coworkers how they would spell certain products. Try doubling letters like “L” and “R” or singling them when they are actually doubled. Add apostrophes where there shouldn’t be, and remove them where they should. Break apart compound words like “antivirus” into “anti-virus” or “anti virus.” Meld words that should be separate like “leg warmers” to “legwarmers.” Get creative.

True, this can be a very time consuming project, but it’s worth it for certain terms. Figure out a way to prioritize which terms need optimization first, and work down from there – e.g. start with flagship products, top sellers, top seasonal products, highest margin or top misspelled terms.

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5 Responses to “7 Sources for Tweaking Your Site Search Thesaurus”

  1. Tim Leighton-Boyce says:

    Re point 5 – do you mean the Google Analytics hack to find the actual search query instead of the Adwords ‘keyword’ you’re bidding on? If so, that should no longer be necessary: look for the dimension called “matched search query” in the GA Adwords reports. They sneaked that in not so long ago. It’s not obvious, but the data is now available without hacks.

  2. Roseboom says:

    Have your site search engine autmatically correct misspellings and give you a report on it….a lot less work

  3. Brian says:

    A couple of tips for automating this (with the help of a programmer):

    1) Google’s Keyword Tool is accessible through the Adwords API. That means that you can automatically retrieve a list of relevant keywords “behind the scenes” if a search turns up nothing.

    2) In Computer Science there’s an algorithm called the Damerau-Levenshtein distance to calculate the difference between two strings. This would be the optimal way to find what the customer was looking for but would require a separate database server depending on your level of traffic.

  4. Hans says:

    Investing time and effort into the maintenance of your thesaurus: Very, very good advice. Every minute spent is worth it tenfold! And the hints stated here are really helpful for dealing with that. But: If your site search is not capable of correcting 1-letter-misspellings… simply throw it away. Even Lucene is capable of dealing with that bit of fuzzyness, not speaking of professional state-of-the-art search engines.

  5. Mark says:

    Firstly, this is a great blog with lots of ideas.

    Secondly, you mentioned, “Use the Google Analytics hack that shows you the long tail terms Google is matching your ads to.” I’ve implemented that hack but aren’t the results the same as the results found in the See Search Terms… listing in the Keywords section of the Adwords interface? Or am I missing something?

    Thirdly, is it just me now noticing it, or judging by the Walmart search graphic you posted, are many MAJOR sites now adding adsense to their sites in order to increase revenue? Aside from Walmart, I noticed Target was doing it, too. Is that just an effective tactic for sites with great brand name awareness? I mean, if I was looking at a site which was not familiar to me and I saw adsense, I would think that it was run by amateurs.

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