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.