Are You Into Internal Site Search Analysis? You Should Be

PurpleAll 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?

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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 : )).

  3. 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.
  4. 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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  1. 2


    As usual, an excellent post. I've noticed that search analytics is getting more and more attention these days. Like all analytics, monitoring your site search is a continual improvement process.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that search has started to permeate corporate intranets as a knowledge management tool. Thus, search analytics is not only applicable to your external site but also your internal sites. Efficient employees that can find data easily = less wasted time = corporate cost savings.

    Finally, and I hope stating this is OK, but I've integrated Google Analytics and Urchin 5 with both the GSA and Google Mini. While the GA integration is 'cool', I like the Urchin integration better. It pulls the log files from the GSA and creates a custom set of search analytics reports (top searches, searches with 0 results, etc). In my opinion it's a much cleaner solution, especially for intranets where the data is more sensitive.

    Have a good Monday.


  2. 3

    Avinash, IMHO, while Google is the best WEB search tool in the world – it's not the best SITE search tool available (by a long mile).

    For the company in your anecdote I'd recommend FAST or Endeca or HBX Search 4.0 or even 'the old standard' Ultraseek.

  3. 4

    Justin: It is great that other tools will support integration as well. In the Urchin case are you able to integrate GSA data with the core clickstream data of the site? That is what I have found is really cool because then the internal search is not in a silo (hence even more powerful).

    Clint: Great tips on the other tools for internal search. I have tried five different ones (and sadly none you mention so they are now on my to do list) and many tools are good. GSA is a pretty good internal site search engine in our case (especially in a data intensive sites like say support).

    The "deal breaker" in any internal site search is not the tool, many are great, but the initial love and caring and feeding that Site Owners are willing to put into optimizing the websites a bit and optimizing the search tool a bit to ensure that the relevant internal site content is being indexed and for the content that internal site searchers are looking for.

  4. 5

    I agree tracking internal search terms is very important. I also think it's important that organizations make their website's 'search box' very evident to users. I attended a webinar a few months ago which talked about a success story of a firm who increased conversion rates by increasing the size of the 'search box' and capitalized on search results which returned 0 results by offering other relevant results (This drastically helped decrease their abandonments).

  5. 6

    Another good reason to pay attention to optimizing internal search: on some sites, at least, it GREATLY reduces the annoyance factor for your staff, who otherwise deal with multiple queries from customers/clients/readers: "Do you have anything on…?" "How do I….?" "Can you tell me where I might find…?" sorts of questions. (Believe me, I grok this point completely!)

  6. 7

    Thank you, I love the post and I couldn't agree more. Internal search tells us what our users want and what they're not finding easily on the site. I especially appreciate the examples you provide (the blinking button that nobody is seeing, etc.).

    One thing that you didn't mention is that the site owner can use internal search data to test the search results. I always recommend that clients' perform a test run on at least the top 10 internal search terms to make sure that site visitors' needs are being properly met.

    I would also refer your readers to for a book-in-progress site about search analytics.

    Thank you again for another great post!

    Gradiva Couzin

  7. 8

    (oops, on re-reading your post I realize that you really *did* mention that client's should check the results, and in fact try to make sure via click density/site overlay that the best results are provided in the top five. Sorry for the oversight! Still a fab post!


  8. 9

    Excellent post, as usual. I'd like to add two things. I am glad none of the clients I've worked with have confused good SEM/SEO with internal search… I am excitable I guess. Just imagine if you had a well-known brand. Customer types in www. brand. com. THEN they search (for the specifics, like you said). That was your big chance to deliver to that customer who knows you and thought of your brand for whatever item!

    The second is what Manoj mentioned: measuring search terms that get no results is absolutely key! (Another great one is search terms for which no links were clicked.) A client I work with discovered that a top term was a mispelling of calendar. Clearly they were looking for the calendar, so they added a synonym. That may be a bad example since some search engines know how to handle common mispellings, but this client uses their no results terms very heavily. They know that users certainly expect relevant results from site search.

  9. 10

    Hi Avinash – Just posted on – will need to go into your post in more details because there's so much good stuff in it – THere's a couple more posts just to digg into what you Site Search.


  10. 11

    We've been tracking internal search usage for several years and hence fine tuning our internal search engine (verity) hugely.
    We also track our conversion rates from the search engine and have found it to give a better conversion than normal click here, click there users. It's certainly worth spending the effort!

    We don't just focus on the top 25, but actually look thru the entire list. Adding common misspellings to the correction pool.
    We also check things like searches that return null results, and pick the more common searches and random others to see just what they do return.

    We do occaisionally see results that are odd or unexpected and hence indicate need for further tuning.

    It is certainly not a static set and forget part of a website, but a highly critical dynamic that needs just as much effort as other parts of the site.

    We do find that it does tie nicely into our tracking from external SE's. Mainly Google. This gives us additional clues as to what visitors are looking for at a broad level for the more generic terms. Google's Trends is an absolute goldmine for this.

    Fascinating stuff!


  11. 12


    In the Urchin case are you able to integrate GSA data with the core clickstream data of the site?

    To answer your question, no. At least not yet ;)

    The module is meant to process the logs from the device in a standalone fashion. I do not tie the reports back to other log sources because there is no clean way to piece the user session together between the log files.

    With that said, I do create a number of useful reports including:

    Traffic Reports:
    Traffic Summary
    Sessions Graph
    Searches Graph
    IP Addresses
    Depth of Sessions
    Length of Sessions

    Search Reports:
    Search Terms
    Keyword Progressions
    Keyword To and From
    Exit Keywords
    Search Term Number of Results
    Zero Result Searches

    If you want to see a demo drop me an email and I'll send you a link.


  12. 13

    I have to agree. Internal site search monitoring is critical. It tells us a lot about how our customers. I look at what they are looking for (keywords), where they are beginning their search (referrer) and whether our results are relevant (link position and abandonment at search results pages).

    I've rigged up some reports in HBX that deliver all of this to me daily using Report Builder and talk about it here if anyone is interested.

  13. 14
    Jeff Leong says

    As usual great article, Avinash. I've become a somewhat of a fan. But I'd like to add that it's also important to identify user success by applying the same rules you apply for other studies. IE. Call to action and performance. Configuring your analytics solution to identify how many clicks it took before (A) a user finds what he/she is looking for based on the querry and path (B) did the search result in a conversion [sale/lead/download] and (C) How deep did the user have to go before finding what he/she was looking for.

    I'm not here to plug, but I really like Omniture's ability to break down user migration patterns based on values associated with their custom variables and the ability to correlate each with one another – as well as applying segmentation through Discover, which is something my company has found very useful the last 6 months.

    My only gripe is the cap of unique values given for each variable, which I discovered recently was applied just last year (November) which has put slight wrench in our solution. Nonetheless, I find the tool great for the needs of our end-users.

    Anyhow, great content… I look forward to reading / learning more.


  14. 15

    I am quite overwhelmed, literally, by all your feedback and suggestions and kind words. Thank you to my small band of readers.

    I wish I could have replied to your comments in a timely fashion today, here is a catch all set of comments (right around midnight in the US : ):

    Ann : Your point is well taken. But take your example to the extreme and imagine all these support websites running around with rather sub optimal internal site search engines and analysis. There you are not only costing annoyance but real tangible $$$ taken away from the bottom line. Sad.

    Gradiva : Thanks for putting the pointer to Louis's upcoming book. After I finished the post last night I did drop a note to Louis requesting him to check out the blog post and share his feedback with all of us. I hope he will.

    (For those of you interested in SEO I want to put in a plug for Gradiva & Jennifer's book: Search Engine Optimization : An Hour a Day, four full stars on amazon! : ))

    Jen : Both synonyms and best bets are great features to leverage from your search tool but then throw in Click Density / Site Overlay on top of those results to validate that people are clicking on your synonyms and best bet suggestions. If not rinse and repeat. : )

    Justin : The reports you suggest are great, you have already made more progress than the rest of us.

    I am so glad that you are striving to add to rest of your site data. That can be super powerful:

    • Internal keywords by site referring urls or major sources of traffic etc.
    • Tying to Conversion Rates (as Steve above also suggested).
    • Funnel analysis for those who do internal searches vs those who don't (specially powerful on support sites)

    These are just some of the benefits. Would love to see the demo, am sending you a email.

    Benry : On the link you provided to your blog the most delightful thing was the emphasis of looking for "Failed Searches". From my humble experience as well I'll stand completely behind that, it is really amazing how much insight we can get for stuff our visitors can't find.

    In one famous example one of the top five keywords consistently was "register", when the company made it explicit in the box and during software install and in other ways that the product can't be registered via the web. The customers still came looking and there was no content on the company site about it.

    Jeff : I am somewhat disappointed that you are only "somewhat" of a fan. Just kidding! : ) Thanks for your input, it is always welcome.

  15. 16

    Nicely put ;)

    Allow me to butt in with a couple of related usability considerations:

    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.

    That's the reason why I usually recommend adding the top 10 search key phrases in a content box adjacent to the Search box itself, making it more visible.

    I see this as a way to circumvent/minimize the obvious usability issue: your visitors do not want to spend time looking for the Search box, or as you suggest, they fail miserably while looking for it :-(

    Also, keep in mind that tools such as Click Density and GA Overlay will not work correctly with content viewed on PDAs, phones, WebTV.

  16. 17

    There is a huge section on "on-site search" in the WAA / UBC Course which goes over not only looking at on-site search phrases for PPC ideas / intent but also analyzing the data and using it to improve on-site search functionality. Here are some of the metrics:

    1. What is the average number of searches per visit? Search solution provider Monosoft states that an average of 2.4 searches occur per visit. A ratio above this benchmark could be a sign that your content is too heavy or your navigation structure needs work.

    2. What is the percentage of visitors going directly to search from their initial entry page? Depending on the kind of site, a high number might be good or might be bad. For exameple, on a retail site a high percentage of new visitors going directly to search is probably not optimal. For a "library" or research site, a high number might be desirable among repeat visitors.

    3. How many searches resulted in "0 matches" as a percent of search attempts? You want this number to be as low as possible. Misspellings, the use of phrases associated with a competitor, or even lack of your search solution crawling all your content can be the culprit. You would be surprised how often, for various technical reasons, the entire site is not crawled.

    4. What percent of visitors gave up on your search and abandoned your site from the search page, and what is the average number of searches this takes? For added information, correlate this with the average number of search results returned for each search. These metrics address such issues as these: Is your search facility returning too few results? Too many? Are they "scan-able" and easily understood?

    These 4 should be enough to get most people started on optimizing on-site search…

  17. 18

    @Jim Novo

    The second half of #3 is both interestng and unnecessary. :-)
    Why completely spider your own content? You know what it's in there, it's your own database!

    Why not build a list of changed/removed pages or similar, only spider those pages and do a delta add to your SE.

    Much faster, more efficient and can be done often.

    We use this method with verity and hence, our internal search engine is at most 30 minutes out of step with the site content.

    We could be quicker, but 30 minutes seems a reasonable balance all round for our needs.


  18. 19

    Avinash, a very belated thanks for raising this issue (and to you and Gradiva for mentioning my upcoming search analytics book).

    Coming from the user experience and information retrieval worlds, I haven't had many opportunities to interact with people from the analytics community, especially over this topic. For the most part, the advice here is in accord with what we'd see from folks with my kind of background, although many of the comments here suggest that the end goal is a transaction (which isn't surprising for analytics people). In sites that are more focused on content and research, there generally aren't quantitative measures to go on, so search analytics more typically supports qualitative evaluations.

    One issue that I don't remember seeing here: using search analytics as a diagnostic tool to improve such areas as:
    * Interface design (both of the search interface and how results are presented)
    * Content tuning (identify content gaps, improve existing content to ensure that it's high on the results list)
    * Organizational behavior (search analytics become a driver for getting disparate parties involved in a web site to the same table, and can even have an impact on organizational strategy)

    So much to cover; wish there was more time (and room) here… In any case, thanks again; I hope this discussion will continue!

  19. 20


    I would like to know how do we implement internal search within website.

    Thanks and Regards

  20. 21

    We just purchased Google Custom Search Business Edition & love it! We just have one question. Were do we go to retrieve information on its usage. i.e. what people are searching for on our website.

    Thanks again for a great product. We recommend it to anyone who have a business website.



  21. 22

    thank you now i have knowledge about internal site search
    منتدى شهران

  22. 23

    Site search report should be taken into consideration, I can't agree most with this feature of google analytics. However, some internal tools can be integrated in websites, to fix common problems like, items you own but not showing up in your site search result pages. You can see what I am talking on LG's official website or you can read about internal search.

  23. 24

    Hi Team,

    I work on an intranet and conduct analysis on how it is used. Largely I feel as though my work is metrics rather than analysis. However, segmented internal search is exciting because it is a foolproof way of providing content owners with insights highlighting what their audience is looking for.

    I plan on segmenting by:

    -Tenure with the firm (what are new hires looking at?)
    -Division (what are my staff looking for?)
    -Staff level (what are partners looking for?)

    Any other ideas for segmenting an intranet?

  24. 25

    Using Google's Analytics tool is it better to use Google Site Search too? And will I get the data "automatically linked" or is there still need for integration?

  25. 26

    Linn: From a Google Analytics perspective it does not matter what search engine you use. All GA needs is for you to specify the parameter your site is using for site search.

    Go to: Analytics Settings > Profile Settings > Edit Profile Information

    Under Site Search, check on Do Track Site Search, under Query Parameter (required) type in the parameter.

    Click Save Changes.

    Sing happy birthday!


  26. 27

    Hi Avinash,
    Do you know of any way to datamine from weblogs what users think the best content on your site is? ie. Can you mine crowd wisdom from your server logs?


  27. 28

    I know this is an old thread, Avinash, but it's a great post and the information still holds up well — especially the 10% benchmark you mention for site search usage. I've always thought 10% is a low number, but it does align with what we have seen for a number of different websites over the years.

    One perspective to add is that someone who abandons a website after a single page view (i.e., bounce rate) can't possibly use on-site search. So if you subtract your bounce rate (say 35%) from the total visitors, and then calculate on-site search usage, you get a truer ratio — more like 15% of all visitors who stick around for more than one page.

  28. 29

    Tom: Over time I am seeing the number rise from the 10% or so that was mentioned in this post. It is not unusual for me to see 15% on average, even more on ecommerce and content sites.

    You are absolutely right that taking out the single bounces would yield higher search ratio. But I would think that at least some of those who bounce might not have bounced if they had seen a prominent search box. So it is hard to say if they might have been "in the pool" of those that might have searched and those who were never in the game.

    These are tough calls to make. :)

    Thanks for sharing your perspective.


  29. 30

    Avinash, very well said. To complicate matters, we sometimes see webmasters using onsite search URLs (with keyword query strings, say as ready-made landing pages in their paid search programs and as internal links on their sites. That, of course, would overstate search usage. The fun never ends!

  30. 31

    "Internal search key phrases" are a goldmine just waiting to be explored. If you really want to know what KW's your site users are using (rather than making an 'educated' guess), then you must research properly. While this article is a few years old, it is still absolutely current in its importance.

    Thanks Avinash :-)

    btw – I'm just starting in on your 2.0 book :-)

    Andy :-)

  31. 32
    Organiksoft says

    Old, yet informative article.


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    Usando una hipotesis de Avinash Kausik con la que estoy muy de acuerdo:
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    Will it show up in internal search? – Roughly 10% of your visitors are going to use site search to find what they are looking for. Make sure that your search is configured to pull from the right places. If possible, see about weighting content that you think is most important, so that it shows up higher in the results.

  20. […]
    Si deseas hacer un cambio, evalúa tendencias en tu herramienta de analítica web. Cómo los datos pueden ayudarte en la evolución de tu producto, lo puedes ver en el punto 9 de este post. Busca datos no solo externos sino también Internos (datos del buscador interno) que te permitan conocer mejor a tus usuarios

  21. […]
    There's a good chance that 10% of your site visitors are using your internal search. When they search for your most popular items, do you know what the results look like? From all our studies, we've found four common types of problems with internal search:

  22. […]
    Há uma boa chance de que 10% dos visitantes do seu site estejam usando a sua pesquisa interna. Quando eles procuram os itens mais populares, você sabe como os resultados aparecem?

  23. […]
    Há uma boa chance de que 10% dos visitantes do seu site estejam usando a sua pesquisa interna. Quando eles procuram os itens mais populares, você sabe como os resultados aparecem?

  24. […]
    Há uma boa chance de que 10% dos visitantes do seu site estejam usando a sua pesquisa interna. Quando eles procuram os itens mais populares, você sabe como os resultados aparecem? De todos os nossos estudos, descobrimos quatro tipos comuns de problemas com pesquisa interna:

  25. […]
    Há uma boa chance de que 10% dos visitantes do seu site estejam usando a sua pesquisa interna. Quando eles procuram os itens mais populares, você sabe como os resultados aparecem? De todos os nossos estudos, descobrimos quatro tipos comuns de problemas com pesquisa interna:

  26. […]
    Difficile à dire. L’intensité de cette utilisation varie certainement en fonction du type de site. Un site de type vitrine comme celui de HEC Montréal devrait en principe présenter une plus faible utilisation de la recherche interne qu’un marchand en ligne comme Future Shop. Avinash Kaushik, personnage influent dans le monde du web analytics, estime le taux moyen d’utilisation du moteur de recherche interne entre 10 et 15%, c’est-à-dire que 10 à 15% de l’achalandage sur un site Web donné utilise le moteur de recherche interne.

  27. […]
    10% посетителей вашего сайта используют внутренний поиск по сайту. Если они ищут наиболее популярные из ваших позиций как при этом выглядят результаты поиска?

  28. […]
    Há uma boa chance de que 10% dos visitantes do seu site estejam usando a sua pesquisa interna. Quando eles procuram os itens mais populares, você sabe como os resultados aparecem? De todos os nossos estudos, descobrimos quatro tipos comuns de problemas com pesquisa interna:

  29. […]
    Há uma boa chance de que 10% dos visitantes do seu site estejam usando a sua pesquisa interna. Quando eles procuram os itens mais populares, você sabe como os resultados aparecem? De todos os nossos estudos, descobrimos quatro tipos comuns de problemas com pesquisa interna:

  30. […]
    If your site is complex and you don’t have an on-site search option installed on your website yet, you’d better implement this because Google Analytics will retain this data and you can then get more alternative keyword clusters that you can focus on for better SEO and PPC campaigns. An internal search data analysis allows you to see the search terms that greatly differ from the external search queries provided in Google Analytics. The point is that user search intent on Google is more generic while onsite user search intent is more specific.

  31. […]
    An even better way is to go straight to the horse’s mouth. Most good blogs have a search function. As well as being useful to the reader, they can be useful to you. Using site search analysis, find out exactly what your readers are looking to get from your site. Use that to capitalize on your audience’s attention. Give them what they want in your future posts. You might have your own direction for content, but it’s a good idea to go with the flow now and then, too.

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