Five Questions To Ask of Your Site Search Data

by Avinash Kaushik

Providing a search box on your site and tracking how people use it can provide you important insights into user intent. A search box is a goldmine of information for you the site owner, because each time users search your site, they tell you in their own words what they are looking for. This article shows you five key ways you can use the data in your Google Analytics Site Search reports to understand user intent.

Note: If you don't have a search box on your site yet, you might consider using the Google Custom Search Engine (both free and paid versions are available). If you already have a site search solution, it is highly likely that Google Analytics Site Search reports will already work with it (including Google's GSA and Mini products).

  • How frequently do users use my search box and what are they looking for?
  • Where do searches begin and end?
  • Are users satisfied with what they find?
  • How do different groups of users search my site?
  • What business outcomes result from users searching my site?

How frequently do users use my search box and what are they looking for?

Use the Site Search Usage report to find out how many sessions included search activity and how many didn't. To find out what people were looking for, look at the Search Terms report.

Where do people begin searches and what do they find?

Use the Start Pages report to identify the pages from which users started searching. Make sure that the pages listed on this report are pages from which you'd expect users to search and not pages from which users are searching out of frustration. For example, users shouldn't have to search from a landing page. Ideally, a landing page provides precisely the information that the referring link or ad promises. If a user searches on Google for a specific product and clicks on your AdWords ad, she shouldn't have to search for the product again after landing on your site.

Once users search your site and are provided with search results page, which pages are they then likely to see? You can get this information from the Destination Pages report.

Are users satisfied with what they find?

How good is your site search? Does it actually help your users find what they are looking for? The % Search Exits metric provided on many of the reports provides a good indicator. % Search Exits tells you the percentage of searches in which the user simply left your site after searching instead of clicking any of the results pages that you offered. The higher the percentage (and the closer it gets to 100%), the less satisfied your users are and the more important it is for you to tune your site search to provide relevant results.

(Tip: You can think of the % Search Exits metric as the site search equivalent of Bounce Rate which tells you how many users left your site after viewing only a single page.)

A related metric is Results Pageviews/Search, the number of times users viewed a search results page after searching. One hypothesis could be that if you provide the most relevant results, people will click on the "golden triangle" on the first results page and continue looking at other pages on your site. If Results Pageviews/Search is higher than 1 or 2, it means that people have to dig to find relevant results.

How do different groups of users search my site?

Many of the Site Search reports provide the same cross-segmentation pulldown selector available throughout Google Analytics. As a result, you can cross segment site search behavior in a variety of ways. For example, what did users from London search for once they were on my site?

You can perform this kind of segmentation by going to the Site Search Terms report and then cross segmenting by "City" via the Segment pulldown menu.

What business outcomes result from users searching my site?

Finally, is there any business benefit to providing a search box on your site? Does having a search box result in higher conversion rates or ecommerce revenue? The Goal Conversion and Ecommerce tabs provide this information for any aspect of site search or any group of searchers.

For example, to identify the impact that users who searched the "books" category had on your business, go to the Categories report and click the "books" category in the table. The Site Search Category report for "books" will appear. Now, click the Goal Conversion tab to see conversion information and the Ecommerce tab to see ecommerce metrics. Do you want to know the total revenue from this group of searchers? Look at the Revenue metric on the Ecommerce tab. If you want to compare revenue for site searchers and non-site searchers, go to the Usage report and select Revenue from the pulldown menu on the table.