Measuring the performance of your internal site search engine is a fundamental part of web analytics. While I have seen several good blog posts that cover what to measure, I thought I’d discuss how you can then act on some key internal site search metrics to optimize the visitor experience on your site. So let’s look at a few important site search metrics and then discuss what can be done to act on the data.

% of Visitors Using Site Search

How often do people use the site search on your site? Given that conversion rate from site search are shown to be nearly 3x higher than average site conversion rates, many sites try to encourage more site search use. If your site search is being used by less than 10% of your visitors, you may want to revisit how the site search function is presented on your site.

Action: Do you have a search box on every page in your site in a consistent location? Is the search box visible above the fold? Could the search form be larger? Does the search work if someone decides to use the ‘Enter’ key after inputting a query term and not the form submit button? You might also consider multivariate testing of the search box location to see how it impacts site search usage. The search box should be a prominent part of your site navigation.

Most Frequently Searched Terms

Look at your top searches and then take a look at the actual search results for your top 25 or 30 terms. Are the top results returned helpful? Take a look at how many visitors are dropping off your site from the search results pages, or are clicking to pages 2 and 3 in the result sets. If some of the top terms are ambiguous as to intent, can your visitors refine the results set to narrow down to a specific topic? Are any “best bet” suggestions offered? It pays to optimize results for your top search terms as our experience is that the top one hundred search terms usually comprise upwards of 40% of all the site searches performed.

Action: Fine-tune your site search relevancy controls as necessary to be sure the right content is being presented in the first few results returned, and can relevancy adjustments be automated based on your analytics data? Ensure that new content is being indexed in a timely manner, and consider adding keyword-based “best bet” promotions in results to help guide visitors. For top terms, also consider building a customized results page that can better serve user intent by aggregating results from different site sections. For example, see how Verizon Wireless aggregates different content from around their site for a search of ‘blackberry’.

Number of Unique Search Terms

Aside from the top search terms, you will also see a large number of unique search terms (the “long tail”). How many unique terms are there in your reports, and how can you optimize the site search experience for all of these terms?

Action: Build a means for your visitors to easily navigate your results sets with appropriate search refinement options. Does your search engine just deliver a generic “Next 10 Results” option as the only means to examine hundreds of search results? More users are expecting to easily narrow results sets to a specific website section, topic, date range or content type. If you provide such refinement options already, how often are they being used? Can the visibility of these options be improved in results pages if the usage numbers look low? See how CBS News uses search refinements to allow visitors to narrow results by site section, type of article, show and date range.

Number of Failed Searches (zero results found)

How many failed searches are happening? Are there top failed search terms? Failed searches usually mean that either your visitors are searching for terms that do not exist on your site (highly useful data in and of itself) or that your current site search solution may not be working properly if the keywords actually do exist in your website content. Scrutinize failed searches for terms for which you do not have content — are your customers telling you something? Do you need to freshen your website content with newer jargon? Are these internal search terms valuable for your SEO/SEM efforts? For failed searches for which you do have content, examine why the failure is happening. Is the content on your site fully searchable? Are the failures a result of misspellings only?

Action: Quickly create synonyms in your site search solution to immediately rectify top failed search terms. Also, be sure that your site search engine has been optimized to handle misspellings, and consider modifying your existing site content to include newer terminology. You might also consider a site search redirect option — for example, if you see searches for “FAQ” but your site does not have an FAQ section, you could instead redirect that visitor to your top-level Support page instead of a failed search page. See how BrooksBrothers supports misspellings.

Measuring and acting on your site search analytics data will increase your conversions. I’ve discussed optimizing results based on a few key site search metrics above and, in future posts, I’ll comment on others as well. Your existing site search solution should allow you to act on your site search analytics data to:

  • Easily fine-tune and automate the rankings of results
  • Build search refinement options for a guided search experience
  • Create customized search results pages for key terms
  • Support misspellings, and offer spelling suggestions
  • Quickly manage synonyms, acronyms and hyponyms
  • Allow keyword based “best bets” and url redirects

If your solution does not offer these options, please give Omniture SiteSearch a close look. Hundreds of leading companies use Omniture SiteSearch to optimize their site search experience including the sites referenced above. All comments are welcome.

3 comments
Dave
Dave

I find it interesting that you claim you should look into your site search if usage is below 10%. Mine is well below .5%, so I will have to look into that. I have it on every page in the same location, but I don't think it is properly labeled so it stand out for readers to find. I will start with that change and see if there is improvement. I know for sure that 99.5% of my traffic can be finding exactly what they are really looking for.

Jessica
Jessica

Hi, A long time ago we set up an auto report that gives us internal search results but I'm having a hard time remembering how to pull it on my own. I also have the same problem with no results keywords. Can you help me to refresh my memory? Thanks!

Morris O'Donagan
Morris O'Donagan

We at http://theredpin.net — a site featuring travelogues and regional information — found analyzing the failed searches a particular convenient way of giving us impulses for coming countries, regions and cities of interest. We built up a comprehensive database of searchterms from which we derive new topics for our articles.