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A definitive guide to using and troubleshooting your Shopify theme's search feature

A definitive guide to using and troubleshooting your Shopify theme's search feature

Offering an effective search tool is an important way to help your customers locate your virtual store “shelves” and luckily most premium Shopify themes come with a search feature ready to go — but there are some ways you can make the feature work more effectively.

Why is search important?

Having an accurate search tool for your Shopify store is a key way to help users find the products they are looking for.

While a strong navigation structure is vital to almost any shop, search allows users to explore your store in a much broader sense that isn’t limited by the categories or collections shown in menus.

At the same time, search is a deliberate and specific action for a customer to take; it’s the equivalent of going up to a salesperson in a traditional storefront and asking if they carry a certain item, instead of strolling around the shop, looking at any signs and browsing the racks to see if they can find it on their own.

How does Shopify search work?

Shopify’s built in search tool can, based on our experiments, search the following product properties:

  • Product titles
  • Product descriptions
  • Product tags
  • Product SKUs
  • Product barcode (which can also be used for ISBN, UPC and other similar codes)
  • Product type
  • Product vendor
The tool can also, if enabled, search:
  • Page content
  • Page titles
  • Blog post titles
  • Blog post content
  • Blog post tags
  • Blog author names

The one key area that the search tool cannot search in most themes is collection names or descriptions.

How does all this fit together?

For example, let’s say you run a high quality audio products store, like our Seoul Turbo Shopify theme demo store, and have a product called “X10 Noise Cancelling Headphones” with the SKU NC-X10, a barcode of 0991235, a vendor name of AudioPros, a product type of Travel Headphones and a tag of “Battery Operated”:

The following searches will work fine and return this product as a result (as well as any other items that meet the search criteria):

  • X10 Noise Cancelling Headphones
  • Noise Cancelling Headphones
  • Noise Cancelling
  • Headphones
  • X10
  • 0991235
  • AudioPros
  • Travel Headphones
  • Battery Operated
  • The caveats

There are some important caveats to consider, however. Using the same example product we have above, here are some common scenarios that would cause the product not to appear in the results:

  • Enters X11 instead of X10 or other similar typo, even if just a character off
  • Misspells “cancelling” as “canceling” or any other word
  • Enters the wrong SKU or barcode value, even if it is just a number off
  • Searches for “White Noise Headphones” or other synonyms or alternate names
  • Searches for “AudioProfessionals” instead of “AudioPros” or otherwise misspells the vendor name
  • Searches for “Airplane Headphones” or other synonym of the product type
  • Searches for “Battery Powered” or other synonym of the product type

Fine tuning the results

Unfortunately, there’s no direct way to control the order in which Shopify displays the results and many store owners find that frustrating.

What you can do

There are some good strategies on how to make your search results better or “encourage” Shopify’s search algorithms to rank certain products higher:

Product descriptions

  • Try to include as many alternative names, synonyms or terms in the product description.
  • It does appear, based on my experiments, that Shopify tends to rank product description text slightly higher.


However, it’s not always possible or desirable to include all synonyms for a product in your product descriptions.

A good alternative to this is to use product tags for synonyms and even common misspellings.

  • The downside to this is that it can create a large number of tags and, if you choose to use tag filtering or display tags on product pages, these tags will appear in those lists, which could be a bit odd if you are including misspellings.
  • In addition, since this technique typically generates a large number of tags, the list of tags can quickly become unwieldy.
  • That said, smaller stores can likely do away with tag filtering on collection pages since, if the product count is low, it can be a bit counterintuitive to have a particular filter only return one or two products out of the dozen or so that are already shown at the collection level.

A possible alternative is to create a custom menu in your sidebar that mimics the functionality of a filtering dropdown and instead points to specific tags or collections:

  • This can be done using your Shopify theme’s sidebar settings or, in the newest version of Out of the Sandbox themes, the advanced custom sidebar builder.
  • It’s important to note, however, that this approach is really more like building a sub-navigation menu and, without more advanced custom code, all collections have to use the same menu and all menu items will show even if the collection the user is in does not happen to contain products matching those labels.
  • The upside to this is that it can also help shoppers discover more products from across your store without locking them into a specific collection.

Finally, a more advanced option is to use some Liquid code magic to prevent these tags from appearing.

Shopify theme search settings

In the some Shopify themes, you can also restrict the search tool to only certain parts of your site, such as products, or search across blog posts and page content as well. This is generally located under Sales Channels > Online Store > Themes > Customize theme (blue button) > General settings tab > Search.

Alternatives to search

Having a search feature is certainly a nice feature and isn’t likely to hurt your users’ experience, but it’s also not always necessary or it can be relegated to a lesser role in your Shopify theme layout.

The main alternative is having well thought out navigation menus to make it easier for customers to find the product they are looking for. In some cases, this can actually be more effective since you can link navigation items to highly specific collections or collections filtered by tags so you can better control what products are shown and the order they are shown in.

Using this approach also has the advantage of helping users “discover” all of the products you offer that might be of interest to them in a way that couldn't be accomplished via the traditional search tool.

It’s also not unheard of to simply disable search altogether. This is especially true if your store only carries a small number of items or even a single item.

Of course, if you opt to disable search, having well thought out navigation becomes even more important.

Specialized search

If your store sells items that are frequently identified by model number, SKU or other coding system, such as a part number, then you may want to consider emphasizing that your search box is a good way to quickly locate that.

To do this, modify the appropriate field under the “General” tab of your language file to read “Search by SKU” or “Search by UPC or name” or something similar. While the search box will technically still work as outlined above, this can be a good way to point users looking for a specific part number in the right direction.

Search box design

Some Shopify themes designs, including Turbo, Responsive and Mobilia, feature a search field that remains visible on page load — and the user simply types his or her query into the box.

The advantage with this approach is that a search box is prominently featured and the user is just a single click away from using it.

Other themes, such as Retina and Parallax, “hide” the search field by requiring the user to click a search icon (typically the traditional magnifying glass) before the search field is shown.

Although this approach does require an additional click to access the search feature, it also reduces the amount of clutter on the page, which is especially key with the large imagery Retina and Parallax feature.

In this approach, the search box appears in an elegant full screen design.

A common request is to flip which style of search design is used from icon to box or vice versa. Unfortunately, this does require custom code modifications so it’s important to consider this factor when deciding on what theme to use.

It’s worth noting that Turbo features a melding of the two approaches — the search field is transparent but always visible and accessible to the user. Plans also call for a new search section in the upcoming Turbo 2.1 release.

If you’re considering having your theme customized to use the search layout of your preference, first consider that, unless done carefully, changing this formatting can have a major affect on the overall look and feel of your theme and how it functions.

Instead of adjusting the design to include an “always visible” search box, first consider how you can improve your navigation menus and sidebars to help users find what they are looking for. Another easy fix is to add a “search” link to your navigation menus that link to /search.

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