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Cisco aces search (again) with a little help from its friend Google

Cisco.com has been one of two kings of the Website search hill since 2011 — and stays at the top for good reason.

It’s one of few sites innovative enough to deliver search capabilities directly from its mega menus – focused enough to consistently improve on its best practice-class post-search filtering capabilities — and clever enough to take a page out of Google’s book and “market” the highest value links in a hero spot on the search results page.

All in all, pretty smart cookies.

And then there’s that other thing you probably didn’t see. And what would that be?

How about the solution to the age-old problem that keeps (or should keep) search teams up at night. What to do when your visitor’s search term delivers the dreaded “Sorry, no results” message when you know the content actually exists on your site.

That was the challenge the Cisco.com team decided to tackle – and here’s how they did it.

They threw in the towel   

While other teams would have squandered time and treasure trying to wring the last mile out of their existing search strategy, the Cisco.com team decided to cut to the chase and partner with Google to handle its search shortfalls in two interesting ways.

When Cisco.com’s internal search delivers a “No Results” message to visitors, the Google engine automatically jumps into action and displays Google’s search results for pages located on Cisco.com. Net result? “No results” messages are a thing of the past.

In cases where a visitor’s search delivers imperfect or limited results, a prominent link offers to display additional Google-generated search results for pages located on Cisco.com.Net result? Google finds and displays pages on the Cisco.com site that the site’s engine can’t find (or doesn’t know exists.)

So how does this work in action?

Like most interesting innovations, the Cisco/Google marriage delivers a seemingly simple result that is built on some interesting machinations.

To see how, let’s walk through a sample scenario.

A visitor comes to Cisco.com and searches for something (in our example, “routers 1841”). Not surprisingly the visitor gets search results back for “routers 1841”. Nothing revolutionary here.

But what if the desired information isn’t listed in the results? What if the term, keyword, or product name was mis-spelled?

This is where the Google partnership changes the game.

Instead of displaying a “No Results” message or inviting visitors to search again, users are presented with a link that allows them to “view Cisco.com results from Google for [their query].”

In other words, when Cisco.com’s search engine fails to hit the mark, Google quietly takes over and offers its list of Cisco.com pages that meet the search criteria. No muss, no fuss – and no need for visitors to conduct ‘out in the wild’ Google searches that would inevitably lead them to competitive content.

When Cisco.com’s search engine fails to hit the mark, Google quietly takes over and offers its list of Cisco.com pages that meet the search criteria. No muss, no fuss – and no need for visitors to conduct ‘out in the wild’ Google searches that would inevitably lead them to competitive content.

 

Payoffs that count

If your team is struggling with improving your site’s search results and eliminating NRFs, a Google partnership can deliver three interesting benefits.

  1. The death of the NRF. Cisco.com reports that its strategy has resulted in an 80% reduction in NRF responses – which means that more visitors stay on the Cisco.com site. That’s an improvement that should make any search team dance in the halls.
  2. More time and treasure. Instead of trolling for errant pages’ missing meta tags, your team can focus on activities that count – such as optimizing the current system and getting other company divisions in the loop.
  3. Stickiness redux. Face, it, visitors who can’t find information on your site usually do one of two things. They either flip over to a search engine to find the information, or dial in your competitor’s site. Keep them on your site and you have a better chance of making a conversion.

And then there is the biggest payoff of all. Most of Cisco.com’s search engine users will never know this elegant solution even exists but will reap it’s rewards.

Cisco and Google’s development of this stroke of search genius is just one more reason why Cisco will continue its reign as king of the search hill – it’s one of the few sites wise enough to know when it’s time to work smarter rather than harder and enlist a little help from its friends.

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I focus on best practices – and show our clients how leading Web teams deliver world-class user experiences. My job is to find best practices and illustrate why they work. How the smartest Web teams innovate – and solve common problems. How leaders put the right pieces together to perfect effect. You can follow me on Google+

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