Whether they promote it or not, the fact is that most site owners want to know what people are doing on their websites, in one way or another. Some even go as far as questioning (correctly!) whether the content being provided matches the expectation of the site visitor. This question is often answered based on web analytics reports such as Time on Page and Bounce Rate. Both giving indications of how long a visitor stayed on site and on how quickly they leave.

However, one tool which is not used as commonly as one might think, or at least isn’t tracked as often as one might think, is the Onsite Site Search. Yet, offering this functionality to site visitors, and tracking usage, can deliver insightful data. In turn, the data can provide opportunity to improve the performance of your site. Using an Onsite site search tool can let you see exactly what people have looked for, if they’ve had to search again, if they searched from specific pages, whether they dropped off the site as a result, and more.

I can track site search usage? How do I do that?
If you’re using Google Analytics, then it’s pretty simple to setup. Accessing the data afterwards is also straight forward.

Within Google Analytics profile setup, you’ll see a section titled “Track Site Search”. Within this section are simple “Yes” and “No” options. By default, this is set to No. Change this to Yes. Now, within the Query Parameter field, enter your search parameter. Using the Aillum website onsite search, looking for “web analytics” produces the following URL:  http://www.aillum.com/search-results?cx=003076251909765162750%3A8jbqbkr4fis&cof=FORID%3A11%3BNB%3A1&ie=UTF-8&x=19&y=15&q=web+analytics#917

In this example, the query parameter is “q”. It’s the parameter within the URL immediately before the search term.

Where do I see the Site Search data?
Login to Google Analytics. From the left navigation menu, choose Content > Site Search. Within this section you’ll see a variety of reports that you can now use to analyse your data. Some simple reports to get you started include:

Search Terms – Unique Searches: Lets you see what people have been searching for and how often. Also provides insight into the variations used by visitors when searching for something. Try grouping keywords to get a better idea of themes being searched for.

Search Terms – Search Refinements: This column lets you see how many times a search term resulted in a further search. Perhaps the user didn’t find what they were looking for? Or perhaps they realised you have a different name for a specific service or product?

Search Terms – Search Exits: One of our favourites, and one that can often result in quick wins for performance improvement. Search Exits define the number of times a visitor has left your site straight after seeing the search results.

Refinements and Exits both provide opportunities for further investigation. High percentages for either stat could point to poor results sets on your Onsite Site Search for certain terms. If you see high percentages, test the search yourself to see which results appear for those search terms. If the result set is poor, or not what you thought it might be, then, edit the relevant pages within your site to ensure they are more relevant and improve their chances of appearing within your site search results.

As with all things related to Web Analytics, the interpretation of the data and the actions taken as a result are more important than simply checking a box to confirm that an additional function is being tracked. It’s not just about collecting data.

Not got an Onsite Site Search setup already? Contact us to see if we can help.

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This entry was posted in Google Analytics on by Brian Tait.
Brian Tait

About Brian Tait

Having been involved in and around the web since the late 1990's, Brian went on to setup Aillum Ltd in 2010. While he spends much of his time advocating the use of Analytics and the general use of data to improve online performance, he's also an experienced coder, online marketer, and an MBA graduate - and can often be found dabbling in and contributing to those fields and other related projects / ventures around the web.

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