All of us are doing SEM/PPC, many of us are doing SEO but very few of us are paying any attention to our internal site search. Even companies that are extremely sophisticated with search campaigns treat internal site search as a step child / orphan / use your favorite metaphor.
Internal site search is someone visiting your website and using the search feature on your website to find information.
As websites have become complex (just look at amazon’s home page) an increasing amount of site users are jumping to the site search box and using that to find what they want. Internal site search usage numbers are hard to come by but in a simple google search for metrics seems to indicate around 10% as typical (YMMV).
So if 10% or more a site traffic is using your internal site search why don't we pay attention to it?
- The magnitude of site search usage is usually not a number that is easily available because many of our analytics tools don’t have a way to report them off the bat.
- There are all kinds of hairy implementations of internal site search software that compounds the ability integrate reporting.
- There is a wrongly held belief that if you optimize for external search then you are also optimizing for internal search.
- The true value of this data, and its multiple usage scenario, is not completely understood.
So why should you care about searches on your website?
- External searches have nothing to do with internal searches. Here are the external search engine key phrases for this little blog (implication: numbers = small for blog, bigger for your website I am sure) :
And here are the searches conducted for the same time period on the blog itself :
You will see that while the numbers are tiny there is nothing in common between the two sets of keywords because visitor intentions are radically different.
The key insight is that most searchers are looking for generic things (think for example "category terms") in google or yahoo or msn to locate a relevant site. But once they are on the website they are looking for something specific.
Perhaps you are skeptical that this blog example is not truly "relate-able" to your business website, having done this now for more than 50 different websites I assure you that you will find this to be true for your website.
One immediate implication of the above is that if you are only doing SEO (meta tags, key word creation, url structures, best bets etc) for external key phrases then you are not solving for visitors on your website. It is likely that when people search on your website they will get sub optimal search results.
If you use Click Density / Site Overlay you already know that it is difficult to find a feature (or even the dreaded “path”) that is used by 10% of your site traffic. Yet internal search is a feature that is being used by 10% or more of your site traffic. This is a gift from God for a site owner because you just analyze this one things, optimize results / content and you have a huge winner on your hand.
Lastly internal search key phrases are great for two reasons
#1) I love finding visitor intent and internal or external key phrases convey intent and it that is very valuable, study them and try to infer customer intent
#2) They are a great reflection of what is “broken” (ok that is a bit alarmist) about your site navigation/links, stuff people can’t find easily or content that is completely missing.
Example:If you have a big honking blinking button that says Subscribe Newsletter and yet that is your top key phrase then you might want to rethink the blinking button.
Example: If one of the top five key phrases on your internal site search report is Register Product and you don't offer registration then here is your customer demanding that you do.
Next logical question, if you have a great search tool and your analytics tool, like ClickTracks for me (see Disclaimers & Disclosures), makes it possible to analyze internal search in one click then how do you measure success.
A few recommendations and analysis starting points:
- Atleast on a weekly basis review the top 25 key phrases from your internal search report (you could look for more, just look for where numbers fall off a cliff, usually after the top 20 – 25). You are looking for interesting and surprising key phrases (to solve for the above two examples, are there key phrases for content that you actually have prominently displayed and key phrases that surprise you i.e. content you don’t have).
- ClickTracks has a feature (perhaps others do as well) where you can do click density / site overlay on search results. This is magnificent because now you can see if customers think you are serving up relevant results (as opposed us the proud site owners thinking that).
Have a goal that for your internal site search should be so good that most of the click density should be clustered on the top five search results links and no one should click Next Page (shoot for the moon I say : )).
- If you have the GSA the it will allow you to create synonyms and best bets. Use these features for atleast your top 25 key phrases. Then use the Click Density to see if people are clicking on your best bets, if not optimize.
- Measure conversion rate (if you sell something) and customer satisfaction & task completion rates for internal site search users (something like ForeSee/ACSI, see Disclaimers & Disclosures).
The hypothesis is: relevant search results = faster access to relevant data = higher customer satisfaction and task completion rates = higher conversion = more money = higher bonus for you in your annual employee review.
(Sidebar: If you use the Google Search Appliance, GSA, its native reporting out of the box is sub optimal for many reasons, my recommendation is to integrate GSA searches with your analytics tool, like ClickTracks or Omniture or WebTrends or CoreMetrics or HBX if they allow it.)
I hope to have convinced you that internal site search is important for any website, analysis of the data captured can be very insightful and more importantly a actionable money making venture.
Quick Anecdote: A company had woken up to the fact that internal search was important and their search software was terrible. So they spent xx thousand dollars and bought the spiffy Google Search Appliance (GSA) and put it on all their sites. They are surprised to find a month later that their customers still complained that site search was bad.
Life Lesson: You can put the greatest tool on earth, Google, on your website but if your websites are sub-optimal (url structures, content key words, missing meta tags and best bets) then all GSA will enable on your website is your customers finding crap much faster than before you implemented the GSA.
Agree? Disagree? Am I tooting this internal search horn too much? Would you like to share your own tips about how to analyze internal search data? Do you know of a tool that is really good at this? Please share your feedback via comments.
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