Analyse your site search to increase ROI

Why is it important to analyse your own site search?

Knowing what people search for on your site is very, very interesting.

After all, these people are already on your website. And they’re probably using your search feature because they can’t immediately find what they’re looking for. At least, that’s what we usually notice during user tests.

What do you have to do?

  1. Make sure you can analyse the search queries on your website
    Earlier, we talked about how to hook up your own site search to Google Analytics.
    Of course there are other tools out there, but they’re often expensive and quite frankly not as good.
  2. Analyse the list of most frequently used search words a couple of times per year
    Take into account spelling and wording variations and group these together. People looking for a ‘gun license’, ‘handgun license’ and ‘gun permit’ are all looking for the same thing. The filters in Google Analytics come in quite handy here.

Typical discoveries when analysing a search feature

  • People look for things that appear to be hard to find through the navigation structure
  • They look for things that aren’t on your website
  • They type in old product names and even your competitors’ product names
  • They don’t use the same words you do
  • People can’t spell very well… at all

How can you turn that knowledge into a profit?

  • Improve the structure of your website and your overview pages
    Bring the top tasks to the fore in your structure or draw attention to them by giving them a prominent place on the homepage and overview pages (also called landing pages, index pages or category pages).
    Rewrite your content where necessary. Make sure you create pages that are easily scannable.
    That way you improve your information architecture and overall website usability.
  • Expand your content
    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you should start churning out random content. Far from it. But, after you’ve deleted all the content people aren’t interested in (and there will be loads of it, trust me), you should think about creating content people áre looking for but that you’re not offering yet.
  • Connect discontinued products to similar new products
    Don’t disappoint people who type in names of discontinued products or old product names. Tell them which current products correspond to those older products they already know and apparently still want.
    Do the same if people type in your competitors’ product names or product codes. People who do that are most likely not looking for that exact product but just something similar.
  • Use the same words as your users or make your search feature smarter
    If your visitors don’t use the same words your website does, you’re the one who needs to change. Or at least expand your vocabulary. You can also make your search feature smarter by hooking it up to a thesaurus with synonyms.
  • Take common spelling errors into account
    Depending on your search software (and your budget) you can automatically correct spelling errors or suggest alternatives.
    If you can’t afford to do that, and it turns out 1 out of 4 people use the same miss-spelling for a particular word, put that spelling error in the meta-data of the most relevant page, or use the wrong spelling on the page somewhere.

Examples

  • Gun permit on government site
    On a government site, we noticed that ‘gun permit’ (and all its variants) was continually in the top 5 searches. Because guns aren’t exactly a popular topic, it wasn’t deemed very important and was put on the 3rd level of the structure somewhere. But it’s apparently one of the site’s top tasks.

  • E-commerce site with unclear delivery information
    Almost the entire top 5 searches on this e-commerce site consisted of things like delivery options, shipping costs, payment methods etc. A clear indication these things needed to be clearer and not just tucked away under a link ‘Terms of sale’.
  • Old product names and competitors’ product codes at a cable manufacturer’s site
    On the site of a leading cable manufacturer we noticed large volumes of searches on product codes and product names. Makes sense, right. But when we probed a little deeper, we noticed that a lot of the searches weren’t producing any results. Delving deeper still, it appeared that the product names were old names the cable cmpany didn’t use anymore but apparently the customers still did.
    User research taught us those people weren’t looking for support for the old products, they were simply looking for a replacement. They wanted to re-order the product.
    The solution: tell customers the old product name or code doesn’t exist anymore and show them the new products with similar characteristics.
    The result: an increase in sales.

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  • http://the-effective-website.com Peter Kassan

    If, as you say, only about 5% of website visitors use intrasite search, that small group of visitors are likely to be atypical and unrepresentative of the other 95%. Conclusions drawn based on the behavior of those users are probably going to be erroneous and misleading.

  • Karl Gilis

    @Peter
    I wouldn’t assume that searchers are atypical.

    The 5% is the average of all visitors. Many websites have a lot of coincidental visitors: they end up at the website through a Google search but leave immediately.

    On some websites we see that upto 30% use the search on the homepage, while within the websites that drops to almost zero.

    So what thhose visitors want, is likely to be the same than others. There maybe one difference: more searchers know exactly what they want than the average visitor. They already kknow the product name for example.

    But most of the time the general top 10 of their searchers corresponds the the top ten of their top tasks. On almost all websites we do very short surveys to define the top tasks why people are coming to a website. Those top tasks are always reflected in the top searches on the website.

  • Remco van der Beek

    What about the percentage of visitors that use the onsite search and then convert ? Or don’t convert ? Or search again ? Or leave your site ? These metrics tell you a lot about the quality of your website.

    By the way, I do not subscribe to the claim that paying tools are not as good as Google Analytics. GA has a lot but also still quite some gaps vs. paying tools.

  • Melissa

    Where does it say only 5% of users use intrasite search? I’m writing a report on SEO and can’t seem to find the average stats for a website’s intrasite search. What is typical stats for intrasite search usage?

  • Karl Gilis

    @Melissa
    The 5% number is based on our experience. We mentioned it in this article: http://webusability-blog.com/navigation-versus-search/