Pete learns that sometimes redirects are all you need

Pete was hired as a Product Manager for Search at electronics retailer Chorus Electronics to build a ‘best-in-class’ e-commerce search engine a while ago. Search is never done though, so he continues looking for optimizations to increase customer satisfaction and drive improved revenue.

A new class of queries to improve

Sometimes the right answer to a user’s question isn’t to actually run a search, but instead to drop them on the perfect page. This is what Pete realizes in his periodic routine of improving search queries that do not perform well; he encounters queries that cannot be treated the same way as single queries and can’t be optimised by boosting, burying, or adding synonyms. Queries like returns policy shouldn’t result in product listings but rather take the user straight to dedicated pages.

Redirects to the rescue!

Among the techniques available to him, Pete discovers redirects. Redirect rules bypass the normal search results and redirect the page to a specific URL when the search query is entered. This is useful for terms that are very broad or for non-product searches.

For example, a search for computer can redirect to the Computers category. Because the term computer is very broad, redirecting the user to the category page allows them to browse subcategories of computers to find a specific type of computer. Another example is a search for jobs. Since an e-commerce site typically only indexes the product catalog, a redirect is necessary to send users to the Careers page for this search.

An active Search Management capability has been a feature of commercial search engines for many years. With open source tools like Querqy which is part of the Chorus stack, Lucene-based search engines like Apache Solr, Elasticsearch and OpenSearch have closed this gap for good. So fortunately, the Chorus stack has Pete covered. Redirects are part of Querqy’s searchandising capabilities. By using SMUI (Search Management User Interface), which makes Querqy easy to use from a web browser, Pete can define the queries that he wants redirects for and their redirect goal.

Types of Redirects

Redirects are mainly used to guide the user to curated content, such as:

  • Category landing pages: users searching for broad query terms, e.g. category names or brands may be served better when directed to a landing page that gives them an overview and navigation options to narrow down their search.
  • Internal content pages: Not all users search for products. Users may also be interested in an online shop’s return policy or their career page to see their current open positions.
  • External content pages: The content redirecting to can be on a different domain or subdomain, e.g. an external blog for SEO reasons.

Pitfalls & Best Practices

Redirects are a simple, yet effective and powerful way to improve queries. However, there are a couple of pitfalls to be avoided and best practices to follow.

Redirecting to deleted pages

When redirecting to internal or external pages, make sure that you regularly check that the redirect goal exists as long as your redirect rule exists. Redirecting users to pages that cannot be found leads to a bad user experience.

Too strict/too flexible input matching

The queries return policy, returns or how do I return products should all lead to the same page in your online shop. Your input definition may be “any query containing a term starting with return”. This also matches “Returnal”, a video game, “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”, the movie, “The Return of Sherlock Holmes”, a book by Arthur Conan Doyle, and many more. You do not want to redirect the users when searching for these titles and using the term return, hence the rule definition might be too flexible. Making sure your users are still able to find your products is key.

On the other hand, you do not want to be too strict to actually handle all reasonable matches with a small amount of input definitions. A solution can be a disambiguation step integrated in the autocompletion functionality: users typing in return are offered the option of completing their query to returns policy or alternatively the products available that also match this query.

(Accidentally) chaining redirects

One redirect goal of a search input can itself be an input for a redirect rule managed outside of the search team, e.g. by marketing. Chaining redirects, accidental or not, is something you should avoid as this can slow down performance and impact web search engines crawling your shop.

Track your redirect rules

Tracking your rules is generally good advice. Knowing how often redirects happen for which keywords is a basic metric you want to include in your tracking. You can track the landing page just the same way when your users navigate to it manually. However, the metrics for these landing pages may differ, as content pages covering the returns policy will have different success metrics than a category landing page for instance.

Complex target URLs

Sometimes redirects need to point to dynamic URLs, for example when passing context information such as the current language or tracking parameters. As Querqy does not trigger the redirect itself but allows your application to perform any post-processing on the redirect URL even the most complex scenarios can be implemented

Redirects in Chorus

In our next video, Daniel will show how to define redirects in Chorus with SMUI and Querqy and lift the hood to look into some of the technical details.
You can follow along by setting up Chorus yourself and go through the steps defined in the eleventh Kata.

Contact us if you need our help with measuring and tuning your e-commerce search.

Chorus is a joint initiative by Eric Pugh, Johannes Peter, Paul M. Bartusch and René Kriegler.

Read the complete Meet Pete series about e-commerce search:
1. Meet Pete, the e-commerce search product manager.
2. How does Pete, the e-commerce search product manager, build a web shop?
3. Pete solves the e-commerce search accessories problem with boosting & synonyms
4. Pete learns about selling search keywords with Chorus
5. Pete finds out how to rate search results to create a judgement list
6. Pete learns how to scale up search result rating
7. Pete learns how to curate search results for a single query
8. Pete establishes a Baseline Relevance Metric
9. Pete improves a new class of queries with redirects