We recently had the chance to dis­cuss site search ana­lyt­ics with respected con­sul­tant and blog­ger Hurol Inan.

When you wrote your book ‘Search Ana­lyt­ics — A Guide to Ana­lyz­ing and Opti­miz­ing Web­site Search Engines,’ what was the most impor­tant les­son you hoped web­site own­ers would learn?

I wanted to cre­ate aware­ness. I wanted to get peo­ple to real­ize that “site search ana­lyt­ics” (SSA) pro­vides sig­nif­i­cant insights about the users of a web­site and their needs.

Before I wrote the book, I used to ask every­one if they did SSA. I have observed that not many web­site own­ers were doing it. I have encoun­tered clients who were amazed when I have demon­strated to them how we could turn SSA insights into site improve­ments and mar­ket­ing intel­li­gence. So I thought I’d share my met­rics and tech­niques with the ana­lyt­ics com­mu­nity in a book. While writ­ing the book, I have iden­ti­fied a num­ber of orga­ni­za­tions who had for­mal SSA prac­tices. I have also incor­po­rated their expe­ri­ences into the book as case studies.

Since you wrote the book back in 2006, what has changed in the dis­ci­pline of search analytics?

There is evi­dence that more peo­ple are doing SSA. At least in Aus­tralia, we know this is the case from Bienalto’s Annual Web Ana­lyt­ics Sur­veys. SSA is con­sis­tently ranked in the top ana­lyt­i­cal tech­niques used.

I have also noticed that peo­ple are ask­ing more ques­tions on the sub­ject in online forums.

Louis Rosen­feld [http://​louis​rosen​feld​.com/​p​r​e​s​e​n​t​a​t​i​o​n​s​/​s​e​m​i​n​a​r​s​/​s​i​t​e​_​s​e​a​r​c​h​_​a​n​a​l​y​t​i​cs/] does SSA work­shops and is writ­ing a book.

Also, my book is still selling!

These all tell me there is inter­est on the sub­ject which in turn would lead to devel­op­ment of use­ful ana­lyt­i­cal tech­niques and improved site search experiences.

You men­tion in the book that only 37 per­cent of site searches are suc­cess­ful; is that improving?

I don’t have cur­rent research on this. How­ever, I am con­fi­dent that the search suc­cess rate is higher for sites where site search is regarded as an impor­tant func­tion of the web­site and there is a for­mal SSA prac­tice in place.

On our client projects, we always look at ways to opti­mize the site search expe­ri­ence and improve the suc­cess rate. In addi­tion to fine tun­ing the index­ing rules, address­ing con­tent issues, we employ tech­niques such as facetted search. This allows users to refine the search results, decreas­ing the exit rates from the results page and increas­ing the selections.

What best prac­tices do you see dri­ving the improve­ment, if any?

For orga­ni­za­tions that have no or lit­tle SSA capa­bil­ity, I believe the best prac­tice is to start with the ana­lyt­ics. I am talk­ing about ana­lyt­ics beyond report­ing fre­quently searched keywords.

For exam­ple, through key­word theme analy­sis on a recent project, we dis­cov­ered that about half of the searches on a client’s site were for spe­cific brand names. A “long-tail” effect had been cre­ated due to the fact that the client car­ried a large num­ber of brands, prompt­ing a large num­ber of indi­vid­ual key­word searches. The client had pre­vi­ously been unaware of these searches since they did not show up in the top key­words report. In this instance, I am cer­tain that the high con­cen­tra­tion of branded key­word searches was caused by nav­i­ga­tional issues.

With SSA, the impor­tance of search can be eas­ily estab­lished by mea­sur­ing the pro­por­tion of vis­i­tors per­form­ing searches on the site vs. those nav­i­gat­ing directly to their desired pages. Then you can estab­lish what dri­ves vis­i­tors to the search. Is it because the site’s nav­i­ga­tion fails or is it because your vis­i­tors sim­ply favor search to brows­ing to find infor­ma­tion? Finally, ana­lysts can exam­ine how well search results perform.

What is the num­ber one thing web­site own­ers should do to improve con­ver­sion through search?

Rel­e­vance.

Improv­ing the rel­e­vance of the search results set and the pre­sent­ing search results in a way that aids the selec­tion of the most rel­e­vant search should be the num­ber one focus.

To do this requires a well-planned imple­men­ta­tion of the site search tool (get­ting the search index right) and, once imple­mented, con­tin­u­ously mon­i­tor­ing and ana­lyz­ing how it per­forms and mak­ing nec­es­sary adjustments.

Web ana­lyt­ics, as it relates to site search, has been pri­mar­ily viewed as a tool for under­stand­ing search behav­ior. Do you see the inter­sec­tion between ana­lyt­ics and site search evolv­ing towards a more dynamic model, one where the site index is influ­enced by web­site behav­ior and vice versa?

When I wrote the book, I argued that SSA is a sub­set of Web Ana­lyt­ics. Both the con­text of the search (i.e. the cir­cum­stances that lead to search) and after-the-search behav­iors should be studied.

I believe there are mer­its of a dynamic model. It makes sense to focus the search results to the con­text of the visit. For exam­ple, if some­one is brows­ing through the cus­tomer sup­port area of a web­site and con­ducts a search, it would make sense to dis­play support-related con­tent first in the search results. How­ever, such prac­tices require some cau­tion because the user might have acci­den­tally arrived from Google in a part of the site which is totally irrel­e­vant to what he or she is look­ing for. Or a site’s nav­i­ga­tion may take them some­where they were not intend­ing to go. Then search becomes an exit path instead of a path to rel­e­vant con­tent. I would exper­i­ment with dynamic mod­els that apply less rigid rules.

Another area that has mer­its is using search key­words as part of con­tent tar­get­ing to dis­play dynamic content.

What will be the biggest ben­e­fits of this evo­lu­tion to both Web site own­ers and users?

The biggest ben­e­fit will be increased rel­e­vance of con­tent and offers. Rel­e­vance means engage­ment, and the engage­ment leads to con­ver­sion and loyalty.

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