Internal search is a huge advantage

Credit Union Website Best Practices #1: Internal Search

Welcome to the first in a new series from iDiz, Inc., “Credit Union Website Best Practices” where we’ll share up to the minute details of what we’ve learned about building credit union websites

Today, we’re discussing internal search, the search engine built into your site (not external search engines like Google or Bing). A search engine inside your site that works well helps ensure that members will find what they need as quickly as possible, and provides a wealth of data you can use to improve your site.

The importance of internal search

Internal search data is full of insights into exactly what your members are thinking about and what they want from your site.

A good internal search engine on your credit union’s website benefits your members (and you) in several ways.

  • Members can successfully find what they need faster and with less frustration.
  • Over time, members learn to trust your search engine, and use it more and more.
  • Mobile users in particular depend on internal search, and many use voice search
  • Navigation can be simplified and easier to understand quickly; you don’t have to put absolutely everything into the navigation if you can reliably find it with a search.
  • Search is another way for members to explore and discover related content in your site
  • Member service via phone or in person can be much easier if you can ask members to visit the site and type in a query to get the information they need.
  • Search tracking gives you great insight into what members are thinking about and how well your content is working.
  • A good search engine allows you to fine-tune the way it works and make your site more and more useful over time.

What’s the problem with most internal search engines?

The most common problem we see on CU websites is simple: no internal search engine at all. If your members want to find something, they have to rummage through pages and navigation and hope they get lucky. Or they might have to use Google, and will often end up on some other website.

Another issue is that many internal search engines can’t handle natural language; they only look for the exact words and letters entered, and can’t ignore punctuation or minor misspellings.

On sites that use WordPress, the built-in search engine is very simple, and prioritizes content by age; newer content always appears first in the search results, but this isn’t very useful. We build our sites with WordPress, but we add an internal search engine plugin that prioritizes the relevance of content.

Some internal search engines also don’t allow much control over indexing, search weighting, synonyms, stop words, and other parameters. In other words, it’s important to be able to fine-tune how your internal search engine works.

You also need to make sure you can easily exclude content from the internal search index. Otherwise, members might accidentally end up on landing pages for special offers, draft pages, old pages, or test pages.

And finally, we’ve seen others that depend on a third party, and may take members away from your site.

Internal search is a mobile advantage

WestEdge Mobile Screenshot
Search is super-important on mobile websites. Here we’ve put the answer to the most-searched question right there below the search box so members don’t even have to look for it!

A good internal search engine is especially useful for mobile users. More than half of visits to credit union websites are on mobile devices, so we always build CU websites mobile-first.

And in user testing, we’ve noticed something pretty interesting: mobile users often use the search to find what they want instead of the navigation. When they figure out that it actually works well, they pretty much ignore the navigation from then on and depend on search.

In a nutshell: best CU website internal search engine practices

  • Review the search data every few weeks to catch trends in interests and inform your content strategy
  • Just FYI, the top internal searches on CU sites right now usually include:
    • “rates”
    • “Zelle” (whether you offer Zelle or not)
    • “CD” and/or “Certificate”
    • “routing number”
    • “credit card”
  • Use a natural language, relevance-based internal search engine
  • Use an internal search engine that allows you to fine-tune search weighting and other factors
  • Make sure you can manage exclusions, synonyms, special words, stopwords, etc. to ensure more successful searches
  • Trade data for speed and convenience: put answers to the most common questions (routing number, phone number, hours) right there in the search box so a search isn’t even needed
  • Make search very prominent in the layout, especially on mobile

Got an idea for a CU website topic you’d like us to cover? Need a hand building a great credit union website that works for you and your members? Get in touch!

Brian Wringer

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