This is a guest post by ntjones.
Internal site search can be found on nearly every site on the Internet and even though it is a common element throughout the web, it is given no love or attention by the webmasters. Site search is preinstalled on every content management system available and will usually work straight out of the box, so in truth there is really no need to do anything with it, unless you want to swap it for an Adsense search so you can make an extra couple of bucks.
Once you enable Google Analytics to track site search then the real value of this element soon becomes apparent. This little search box holds a window into the mind of your traffic, no other tools can give you such an insight into what a customer is thinking, what they are really looking for and what they are doing on your site. Once you start to dig into the data, what your traffic really wants will soon become clear.
Why do your visitors use your site’s search function? Of course it’s to find what they are looking for. We live in a time where everybody is busy and want instant answers to their questions. Searching for them on your site will help them do that. It doesn’t matter if you have the answer they are looking for directly under your search box, there is still a very good chance that they will use the search function instead of wasting their time looking through your list of categories.
Even if your visitors are unwilling to browse through your categories, it is potentially a good thing when they choose to use site search because it gives you an unparalleled view into the mind of your visitors. When they use your search function the data recorded gives you an idea of what they are really looking for and what they really want to find on your site.
Why is site search so important?
It doesn’t really matter what type of site you run, the data stored in your site search can prove invaluable. If someone searches on your site for fluffy blue widgets but you have no results on your site that match this search term, the visitor will do one of 2 things: bounce away to another site or refine their search to something like, fluffy widgets. If that still gives no results, they will again do one of 2 things: bounce or refine their search.
Let’s assume they refine their search to widgets and finally some results are returned. They then continue on and click on the first few results, but since it is not exactly what they were looking for, they may only spend a couple of seconds on your page and then bounce off to another site. This is because your page does not contain exactly what they are looking for: fluffy blue widgets.
Now if you were looking at your Analytics data from a high level all you would be able to see is that this visitor came to your site, went 5 pages deep into your site and then left. Looking at the data like this you can say that your site has done well. The searcher didn’t bounce, in fact they stayed and looked around for a while, no revenue was generated but at least they didn’t bounce back.
Once you look at the internal search data, a much different story is told, one that gives an exact account of what really happened with that searcher.
They came to your site, tried to find what they are looking for, but your site didn’t have it so they refined their search until they found something very roughly relevant but wasn’t really of any use to them, then they left without having found an answer to their question. When you look at the data like this, it shows your site has failed.
As you can see when you look at the data in 2 different ways, 2 completely different stories are told.
What makes site search so important is that it not only gives you an insight into the mind of the searcher but it will also give you clearly actionable tasks. In the example above the action you should take would be to add an article or section about fluffy blue widgets. So the next time someone comes looking for them you will have exactly what they want which will mean they will leave your site with the answers they are looking which will mean your site has succeed in providing the right answer. This in turn may also mean a greater chance that the searcher will click on an ad or maybe sign up for your newsletter which will ultimately provide extra value for you.
So are you tracking the searches being made on your website?