Improved Accessible Search with Elastic Path

Written By: Peter Abrahams
Content Copyright © 2007 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

An e-commerce site has two requirements of search engine technology:

  • The searcher is directed to the site rather than the competition.
  • Once at the site the searcher quickly finds the most relevant page.

The reason for the first is obvious. The reason for the second is the fickle nature of e-buyers. If navigating to, or around, the site is tedious they will go elsewhere and not return. If they find something in blue but want it in green they expect to be able to navigate to the right page in a couple of clicks (ticks!). If they have been very specific—for example ‘tiny yellow polka dot bikini’—they expect to be pointed at that or something very similar.

E-buyers are often time poor and therefore impatient, if they do not find what they want they will obviously not buy, but worse they will probably not come back to your site. Provide them what they want or a good alternative (a check instead of a polka dot) and they will buy and bookmark the site for use next time.

All of this is just as true for people with disabilities but their need for good navigation is, in fact, considerably greater.

Consider an e-buyer with a vision impairment that requires them to use a screen reader. Even for an expert user having a page read out to find the relevant information is slower than a sighted user’s visual scan. If a search result contains several irrelevant entries followed by your relevant entry at number 5 then the user may well not scan that far; however, if a relevant page is at the top they will be pleased and potentially go no further.

Or consider an e-buyer with an upper limb disorder who uses speech recognition for text input and eye blinks to click. Again the extra time and excessive number of page clicks will inhibit the use of e-commerce.

If the user could enter one complex search, for example ‘1MB of extra memory for an Apple iMac Intel core duo’, and that went directly to a relevant page then it would save considerable time and effort and would be greatly appreciated.

I discussed this area in my recent blog Accessibility and Search Engine Optimisation.

BEA have recently announced a new version of AquaLogic Commerce Server which includes search engine optimisation technologies from Elastic Path which will help the searcher with a disability as well as the time-poor searcher.

Elastic Path – Optimize – ensures that pages are well formed for the search engine spiders to gather complete and accurate index information. This includes structuring of the individual page URL and the creation of tags including title, description and keywords. This helps the search engine to find the site both for generic queries such as ‘swimwear’ or ‘memory’ as well as the long-tail of highly specific queries.

Elastic Path – Seek – provides facilities for navigating within a site. It automatically provides:

  • Searching by product, category or SKU.
  • Filtering by price, brand or attribute.
  • Breadcrumb navigation history.
  • Sorting of results.

The products together will ensure that more searchers land on your site and, when there, find their exact requirement quickly and easily. This benefits impaired and non-impaired users alike.

I believe that using this product will improve accessibility for e-buyers with an impairment. But I also believe that designing the searches with impaired users in mind will highlight any usability issues and hence further improve the experience for the whole e-buyer community.