Site search improves content & avoids mistakes

Visitors to your website who use the internal site search engine are offering you a gift; an explicit intention to find information.

It’s a gift I recommend you accept with grace.

Here’s 3 things you can do to benefit from your visitors’ largesse, using internal site search analytics.

First, understand what site search is and why you should be analysing it right now.

Content wanted

Each site search is like a small personal ad in a newspaper:

Web visitor seeks useful info. Will consider only first/best response. GSOH required.

As someone responsible for your web content you may be getting feedback that your visitors can’t find what they’re searching for.

Don’t conclude the site search engine is broken. I’ve seen this happen.

Replacing your search engine could be a costly mistake (unless, of course, it’s really broken).

The truth is: it’s more likely people just can’t find stuff because content and navigation are letting them down.

How to get the most out of internal site search

  1. Setup Web Analytics internal site search function
  2. Analyse and report
  3. Add user testing to the mix to get the whole story

The setup

Of course, you can’t analyse site search if you don’t have it configured. Chances are you’re using Google Analytics and these instructions apply.

By default, site search is turned off in Google Analytics. Follow this guide to turn it on: set up Site Search in Google Analytics. You’ll need administrator access and to determine the ‘search parameter’. (A quick web search will show you how to do this.)

Stuck? Contact your developer or tech support.

Once configured and running for a while, check out the reporting charts under Reporting >> Behaviour >> Site Search.

The analysis

Start with the ‘Overview’ view to find overall numbers.

Depending on the type of website, 10-25% of visitors will typically do a search.

High numbers –  in and of themselves – aren’t a cause for panic. For now just establish a baseline and recheck every month.

Remember, however, that consistently high numbers could also indicate a problem: visitors can’t consistently find the content they want via navigation and maybe your message isn’t clear.

The next – and most important – thing to do is to list the search terms.

Track search terms from month to month to see the trends. Are there internal or external factors changing what people are looking for?


  • site search terms are gold
  • it’s your property and this information isn’t on Google keywords
  • research shows people will think differently using Google and using websites

Now, do your own search on each of the top ten terms.  Yes, each one.

Content that answers the query being asked by the term should turn up in the first 3 results. To tweak the results change page metadata, title or rewrite content.

But, checking your search terms every month isn’t enough. You need…

… the whole site search story

To really understand what’s going on here, conduct simple user testing.

Take each of the top 10 results and turn them into tasks. For example, search term ‘diagnosis’ could become ‘find out how MRI is used in diagnosis’.

Ask someone to complete that task. Observe. Find out what’s working and what’s not. Get your users to think out loud.

Site search data is great but the biggest mistake you can make is to forget that real people are behind it.

Answer the personals

If you run analytics on your site and you’re not responding to the personal ads offered by site search analytics, then you’re missing out on key web content management data. So, don’t let anyone tell you you need a new search engine until you’ve spent some time fixing the REAL problem. 

Start small today: configure your analytics to take advantage of site search.



To find out how to receive free expert advice see Digital Enterprise Program Melbourne.