March 9, 2005, 12:00 AM

Site search could get a lot more personal, experts say

As retailers continue to learn to use site search to better serve customers and increase sales and profit margins, they’ll also move more into offering search results personalized to each shopper’s known shopping behavior, experts say.

Kurt Peters

Executive Editor

As retailers continue to learn to use site search to better serve customers and increase sales and profit margins, they’ll also move more into offering search results personalized to each shopper’s known shopping behavior, experts say.

“Personalization is the next logical direction for site search,” says Eric Peterson, web site operations and technology analyst at Jupiter Research.

Combining site analytics and search functions, for example, can let a retailer tailor search results based on where a site visitor came from, says John Squire, vice president of product management for Coremetrics Inc., whose web analytics technology can be used to improve site search results.

“Retailers are beginning to look at the referring Internet search site, whether it’s Google, AOL or MSN,” Squire says. Because each referral site can be shown to deliver types of shoppers with particular spending habits and interests, retailers can modify search results based on the referral site, he adds.

Mercado’s Commerce Search and Navigation application includes an administrative console that business managers can use to set rules on what search results and cross-selling presentations appear according to information related a shopper’s personal demographics and historical and real-time personal shopping behavior, the recorded interests of other consumers, and the goals of the retailer regarding moving merchandise, says Bill Martin, Mercado’s vice president of sales.

Site search personalization is a new development with which few retailers have real-world experience, but Peterson says it’s a natural evolution of modern site search technology combined with web analytics. He predicts it will become more common, considering the trend to bring together analytics and search technologies, such as in web analytics firm WebSideStory’s planned acquisition of Avivo Corp., which operates site search company Atomz.

“If you have customized results based on priorities like profit margins, inventory or just what sells, the next logical direction is toward customized results based on where a customer came from and what her interests are,” Peterson says.

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