Sales & Marketing

How dynamic search functions can boost your business

Technology Editor Marcus Austin explains how responsive search functions can help you adapt your website and can help turn your undecided browsers into customers

Everyone would agree that a search function is a powerful tool for locating products and services; multi-billion-pound enterprises like Google and Yahoo are testament to that power. Businesses like Amazon have been using search effectively for years to help users not only find products but also create cross-sell and up-sell opportunities. When you type in a search on Amazon, as well as receiving your own search results you also receive a list of products that were chosen and purchased by other shoppers who typed in the same search terms. This sort of ‘recommendation search’ has been extremely effective, but businesses are now taking search a step further.

“Search can give you incredible access to your customer’s wants and needs. When people search they’re telling you what interests them, and yet many businesses discard that information.”

If you type in a search on Google, after a few characters are typed you will notice that a drop-down box appears below the cursor, and Google automatically presents potential phrases based on the words you have typed so far. Then, when you start to type even more characters, a range of search results appear below without you having to press the return key. This is known as ‘dynamic search’ and it can be incredibly powerful when used on a site.

Traditional search

Traditionally, search has been aimed at helping those with their minds already made up to find information faster. However, with dynamic search you start to help both the undecided and the already decided. The first businesses to really start using dynamic search are those in the retail sector. Fashion businesses like Zara and Zalando are using dynamic search to prompt online shoppers with a list of categories of clothes and brands, as they type, with pictures of the clothes appearing as soon as the full descriptions are typed.

An extension of this dynamic search is to add filters to the search results based on key criteria. For example, type in ‘jumpers’ and you get a list of every jumper available, but to the left of this long list you will see a list of filters based on gender, colour, size, and price. Click to filter ‘by men’ and the selection on the right is immediately reduced to just jumpers for men. Click on ‘black’ and the selection is further reduced. Some sites also take another search strategy and that’s to change the menu structures as you type in a search. With Zara, if you click in the search box all the other menu options automatically disappear, and only start to reappear as you type in a search. So, if you type in ‘jumpers’, a menu appears below the search with the different jumper categories, i.e. Man, Woman, Kids, etc.

Customer data

Finally, search can give you incredible access to your customer’s wants and needs. When people search they’re telling you what interests them, and yet many businesses discard that information. The clever businesses are the ones that take the search requests, both successful and unsuccessful, and to use it to shape the design of their website. For example, if enough people are searching for a particular product then it makes sense to surface that product somewhere on the site’s front page or in the site menu structure. But don’t just stop there, search is one of the cheapest and most effective product research and development systems you own. So, if people are asking for something, don’t just ignore them but instead use the results in your roadmap for new products and new services.

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John Carroll - Helping businesses achieve International success. Head of Product Management & International Business, Santander UK