December 18, 2013 ↘︎

5 internal search tips that will improve your user experience.

I often say that the insights gathered from what people are searching for on your site can be an untapped goldmine of information.

People use search for different reasons. Some use it right off the bat to get to content quickly – bypassing the hours of work you put into designing your information architecture. Others search after failing to find something on your site. And then there are those that use it to re-find something that they found on a previous visit.

There are lots of different motivations for using internal search these days, therefore having a well structured set of search results with good usability will help improve the user experience. But how can you use your search data to improve site experience outside of search?

Tips for measuring internal search

Here’s my top 5 tips for measuring internal search, and how to use the results:

1. Ranked keywords/phrases.

Obviously this forms the basis for reporting. You need to know what people are searching for on your site, right? This keyword conversion report would often be aligned with a number of metrics, including Internal Searches and other custom conversion metrics, such as purchases etc. You use this report to figure out the top searches that are being done within the reporting period, and how well those results convert the user. If you suddenly spot a new term that’s being used, then it’s likely your audience can’t find it easily enough. You can now include links or promos to it if it’s important enough.

2. Trended keywords/phrases

Looking at top terms trended over time will show seasonal differences, highlighting content opportunities over the year. And this will vary by audience too; international visitors vs. domestic visitors, customers vs. prospects – so you should consider having the capability to target different content seasonally, to different audiences (simultaneously).

3. Number of search results.

This traffic report shows the number of results displayed. While somewhat useful, what you really need to do is break it down against the keywords searched for. Once you’ve done that you’ll get a feel for how many results by keyword, people are having to look through. If you have a high number of search results and a high number of searches per term, you might want to consider optimising some of the key content better, to reduce the need of the user to figure out which content they should be looking at.

4. Number of zero results.

This is an extension of the one above, and shows terms that people are searching for but not getting any results on. It could be spelling mistakes (your internal search engine should deal with that though), it could be missing content (you can deal with that) or it could be that you just don’t offer whatever it is they’re looking for. If you don’t offer it specifically though, maybe you can get them to look at a similar solution through other content?

5. Content prompting a search

This report shows the page they were on previously to the specific term they searched for, and is a fairly good proxy for indicating missing content on that previous page. Take your search term traffic report (prop) and break it down by previous page viewed (you’ll need to have the plugins working and the prop configured for that to work). You’ll probably find that the majority of the searches come directly from the home page, so you’re best to look beyond those results at some of the others. You may find that you have a number of searches done from specific content pages that don’t include what the visitor is looking for. You may have to dig a little deeper here though to find out at what point in the journey they couldn’t find their content.

And here’s a bonus tip:

6. Time prior to search term.

This report will tell you how long it was into their visit before they gave up and started searching. You take your search term conversion report (eVar) and break it down by Time Prior to Event, with the Internal Searches metric displayed. Look at all of your top search terms here and see if they really should be able to get to the content quicker. This can indicate navigation or naming convention differences between what they expect, and what you use.

There’s a lot of information available about internal search habits and those insights can help you to improve the user experience across your site and within search.

Many times people forget about the search data, being more interested in campaign performance, or conversion performance.

Search is an influential part of many user journeys and this is why I like to think of it as a little gold mine.

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