Examining Site Search Results in Google Analytics

June 25th, 2010 • By:  • On-Site SEO

Whether you’ve been working on your website marketing for years, or just starting to take it seriously for your business, there are few more powerful tools than Google Analytics (or another analytics software program such as Omniture or WebTrends). Last month we held an introductory webinar on the subject, which you can watch again, but with any tool this powerful its full potential cannot be covered in just one hour.

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Analytics software is focused on telling you what visitors did on your site, and the clues that this information can provide ranges anywhere from pages that are underperforming, to ideas for new keywords to target. However, to get the most out of the information, you have to spend some time setting it up beyond simple installation. One of these areas that provide great insight is ‘Site Search’.

Site search is turned off by default because not every website has a search function, and those that do all work a little differently. If your website is currently lacking a search feature, we highly recommend adding one for reasons that will hopefully become obvious as we dissect the information that becomes available. When many of our clients first come to us they haven’t enabled this feature, but turning it on and configuring it is a couple of simple steps;

1. Go to Website Profile Settings – Currently set to ‘Don’t Track Site Search’ and ‘Edit’

2. In the new page click the radio button ‘Do track Site Search

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3. Perform a search on your website and take a look at the URL to find your query parameter. It’ll be the url between the ‘?’ and ‘=’, probably a ‘s’, ‘q’, ‘search’ or ‘query’. Search for something unusual, not your company name or ‘search’. I searched my own name, and in the URL you can clearly and you see our website uses ‘s’.

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4. If you also have categories, such as ‘Books’, “DVDs’ “clothes’ etc that people can search within, then set up the categories section in a similar fashion. Otherwise Save Changes and you’re done!

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Once you have this set up a whole new realm of information becomes open to you with 6 new reports to analyze, pick apart and otherwise dissect and digest. Some highlights of these reports, and clues you can gain from them are as follows;

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Overview

The overview is just a dashboard for your site search, so while useful, lets dig a little deeper!

Usage

Usage is again a little self evident in that this report tells you how often the search function on your website is being used, and it does this by way of a pie chart and graph over time. The actual figures involved in this report will depend on the industry you’re in, and the type of website that you are running, but anything over 20% would make me worry for most websites and make me ask such questions as;

  • Why is the search volume so high?
  • Has it changed over time or always been high?
  • Are people having a problem with your sites navigation?
  • Are your landing pages accurate for keywords, or do people need to search for what they want?

…and so on. Really try to see your website as someone visiting for the first time and without the ‘Curse of Knowledge’ in that you know where everything on your website is.

With this and any other report don’t forget to check out those tabs at the top for ‘Goals’ and ‘Ecommerce’ if you have these set up. This can tell you if those who use your search are more or less likely to convert into sales – maybe too many people are leaving your site because they can’t find what they want to buy, and are unwilling to use the search bar.

Search Terms

Search terms is how Google Analytics separates search queries on your website, and search queries that bring traffic to your site, which are classified as ‘Keywords’ in the Traffic Sources reports. In terms of SEO, this information may be the most important as it can tell you directly what your customers are looking for and if they were satisfied with what they found – look at exits %’s and time after search. This can give you inspiration for new keywords to target, new content to create, or new products to stock to keep your visitors happy!

Start Pages

The start pages report tells you the most common pages where visitors on your website enter a search query. You may wish to compare this information with that in your top content report to see which pages have disproportionally high number of searches, and then ask yourself;

  • Does the page have difficult navigation? Why can’t visitors find what they want?
  • What content are visitors expecting on certain pages?
  • Are my landing pages not correctly aligned with their targeted keywords?

Drill down to each page to see the search terms used, as well as looking at the % of search exits, time after search etc, to see the value of each search term to your sites goals.

Destination Pages

The destination pages report tells you those pages which were most commonly found via a search term. This again can give you clues into some of the following questions;

  • Which pages are your website visitors looking for but struggling to find?
  • Why can’t your visitors find the pages they want? Are there navigation issues, or are you categorizing pages in subsections your visitors don’t think to check?
  • Which pages do people want, and can you create more of them?

Catagories

If your website has different categories that can be searched in, and if set up correctly, this report can show those categories with the highest percentages of search queries. The information you can gather will again vary wildly, but you might want to ask yourself the following

  • Why are some categories searched more than others?
  • Is it in proportion to the volume of visitors in those categories?
  • How can I alter the navigation of each category to reduce user search?

Trending

Like any Google Analytics report, the best information can be gathered by comparing how information changes over time, and the trends that take place. The trending report is therefore crucial in measuring the effect of changes that you make in response to any or all of the above questions. For example…

  • Have the changes you made increased or decreased search volume?
  • Are your visitors able to find what they want with just one search?
  • Are visitors staying on your site longer after searching?

Once again this post can only barely scratch the surface of what all of this information can tell you about your website and its visitors. The better you can understand the two of them, and how they interact, the more successful your online business will be. Whether you have Site Search set up, or you follow these instructions to get started, let us know in the comment section below of any additional tips you pick up from the reports. Alternatively, if you would like to have us take a look, and see what we advise to get the most from your visitors, contact us and we’d love to help you succeed!

James Constable

James is a Campaign Manager at Vertical Measures, looking at client’s Internet Marketing from a strategic viewpoint to get them the best possible results for their business needs and budget. His blog posts revolve around strategy, analytics and keyword selection.

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This entry was posted on Friday, June 25th, 2010 at 4:13 am and is filed under On-Site SEO. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

5 Responses to “Examining Site Search Results in Google Analytics”

  1. Thos003 Says:

    Thanks for this very useful tip…. I think…? More information to mine. More time to spend. =)

    No really. This is brilliant. Knowing what your visitors want from you is the best way to build a better website. Studying what they search for on your website will clue you in to what they value and/or what your site is lacking. Either way, listening to your site visitors will help you improve your website.

    I recently was digging through search terms that brought people to one of my sites. I came across the search term 'How to unmerge Google maps.” I don't know how or where I was ranking for that term, but I knew that this was a great question. So I blogged about it.

    The point being. Listen to your customers. Listen to your visitors. Help them out and they will come back for more.

    Thanks again for this great insight.

  2. Kelly M Davis Says:

    Great info. I've been using GA for 3 years now and didn't know about that function.

  3. free google people search Says:

    I was at this site a few month back, I had to come back to thank you because the information I got, help me improve my site 100 fold. I just wanted to thank you for that., and tell anyone on this site now, read this information, then re-read it, you will get allot out of it, trust me.

  4. Free Google People Search Says:

    Thanks James for this excellent post. The depth and volume of information available using google analytics can be overwhelming at best. Your post clearly layed out the step by step process to getting exactly the information needed to lead your marketing direction. Cheers!

  5. Stephan Messina Says:

    We are a group of volunteers and opening a new scheme in our community. Your web site offered us with valuable info to work on. You have done an impressive job and our entire community will be grateful to you.

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