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Who, What, Where, When, Why (& How!) – Harnessing the power of Internal Site Search

July 14, 2014

This post is based on an analytics tip I shared at Adobe’s Summit last year.  If you were at the conference, this may sound familiar.  If not- I hope you find some good ideas for utilizing your internal search data, as these tips can apply to any web analytics platform configured to collect site search terms.

One of the most obvious uses of internal site search is to see which terms are typed in most often, and use that data to prioritize updates to your website.  The terms at the top are what people are looking for most often, so they must be the most critical, right?

That is often true- but what I have historically found is that people actually use the internal site search box in three distinct ways.

Harnessing Key Words:

If you look at the “out of the box” internal site search report in your web analytics tool, the top ranked results tend to be single words.  There’s nothing wrong with this list- as you can still see which words people type in the most often.  Lots of your site visitors are going to use the search box to type in a single word, and this report is great. You can share this report with your stakeholders and say “here are the Top 10 keywords our visitors typed in on the site” and make your stakeholders happy.

What I really LOVE about internal site search reports are the results that fall a bit further down the list.  If you are thinking “ughh- that’s just a bunch of long tail results that are hard to sift through” – here are some tips for sorting your results and finding even more insights about your site:

Harnessing Key Phrases:

Some of your site visitors are going to enter short phrases vs. single words.  The odds that everyone uses the same 2 or 3 words, and enters them in the same order (and spells the words the same) is very low- so these results can end up scattered throughout your internal site search report.  How do you know what these phrases are?

Tip: filter on key terms (say, the names of key products, people, or locations that may be relevant to your website or company).  This will give you a clustered set of results that can help identify phrases that may yield additional insights.  Anything involving more than one word is likely to be more unique within your search results- so this filter can help you find, and count how many people entered similar phrases.  It can be surprising to find those results bubble up higher than a single word at the top of your internal site search report.

Harnessing Key Questions:

Did you know….some people will actually use the internal site search box to enter in an entire question? This is where the power of filtering becomes powerful.

Tip: Filter your internal site search results by the words Who, What, Where, When, Why, or How – and suddenly the clouds will part, angels will start singing, and you will see actual questions your site visitors have entered on your website. It doesn’t get any closer to finding the “Voice of your Customer” in your web analytics data than finding these questions that have been buried deep within your site search reports.  (You heard angels singing, right?) Okay, okay, not all of these terms may produce meaningful results for your website- but I am willing to bet you will find some pleasant surprises.

Sample “questions” you might find in your internal site search reports:

–       Where can I buy your product? (if it’s not sold online your visitor might be looking for retail locations)

–       What type of product should I buy? (a shopper looking for more information to aid in online ordering)

–       When will your new product be available? (a loyal customer who wants to be first in line)

I have found sharing the overall top Key Terms, along with the top Key Phrases and top Key Questions can help illustrate how your users are interacting with your site (and the search box).  Analyzing the results of these three types of searches can help you assess which types of issues your site visitors are encountering, and prioritize site or content updates with a more complete view of your guests’ voice.

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