What Is Search Relevance?

A search result is relevant when a user enters terms into your application’s search box and receives precisely the result they were looking for.

Providing relevant search results is simple in theory, but complex in practice.

The problem of relevance…

Producing relevant search results may seem like a solely technical problem: users can’t find what they’re looking for on your website, your website search is broken. Although engineering and technical teams are always involved, search relevancy impacts companies that rely on search on an organizational level – from product managers to UX, content strategists, sales and marketing.

And when users (shoppers, members, patients) can’t find what they’re looking for, they leave. 

Relevant search is an organizational issue.

For brands, irrelevant search results mean lousy product launches and lost revenue; for e-commerce, it’s less traffic, higher bounce rates and overall profit losses; for everyone, irrelevant search means unhappy users.

Search relevancy is a blind spot in many organizations, big and small, across various industries. If search is core to your organization’s success, your teams may know something is amiss but are unable to identify what’s wrong.

Providing relevant search results isn’t just helpful for your users, it’s a competitive advantage for your organization.

The business case for relevant search

Organizations with poor search relevancy are at a loss: resource, time, profits, sales, and customer/user experiences. For example:

  • E-commerce and online retailers – Shoppers who don’t find the products they’re looking for simply won’t make a purchase, or they’ll find it on an aggregate seller’s website (Amazon, Walmart)
  • For associations and research-based institutions – Irrelevant search results mean users can’t find what they’re looking for, end up frustrated and often see less value in the membership or service your organization provides.
  • For hospital and medical groups – By improving search relevancy, doctors and other medical practitioners access important diagnostic information faster and more easily. A common case of poor search performance resulting in loss of resources is patients unable to find parking instructions on a hospital website, forcing staff to spend valuable time fielding phone calls about parking.

Relevant search is all about responding to users’ searches with content that satisfies and sells.