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"May I help you?" In the physical world, those simple words are the foundation of an effective customer relationship.

But what happens online?

Despite the best intentions in the digital world, site visitors may not receive the best guidance. In those moments they will typically use a site search, the text box you typically see on a webpage for querying available terms within a website.

Well, with a little detective work within analytics, businesses can examine the most frequent queries to reveal what customer assistance is needed most.

It is one way to be the helpful sales person when one can not exactly be next to a customer.

(Editor's Note: Pierre DeBois will be speaking at CMSWire's DX Summit 2015 on Nov. 3 in Chicago.)

The Basics in Site Search

Every web analytic solution usually includes a site search report to display the search terms that are frequently used within a site search.

Each solution varies but the overall impact is to reveal search queries and if there are issues in retaining visitors. Think of it as inspecting leaky pipes, and you get the idea.

Google Analytics requires users to access the admin panels and activate the site search via a toggle switch in a profile view, access the admin panel. Users must also add the query parameters that are used in a query. Those are the extension seen in the URL, such as:

where “s” is the query parameter to be entered.

Once activated, Google Analytics then displays a site search analysis into 3 report categories:

  • Usage Report, showing overall query results
  • Search Terms Report, to display the terms used in a query
  • Page Report, to indicate the page on which the search took place

The Usage Report is basic, showing the same columns as in the other Google Analytic reports. The dimension rows are two listing, visits with site search and visits without a site search.

The Search Term and Page Reports display a set of columns that differs from the standard reports in providing site search query details. The reports contain the following metrics for each queried term:

  • Total Unique Searches – searches by query term
  • % Search Exit – the number of exits from searching a key term
  • % Search Refinement – the percentage of searches which lead to
  • Time After Search – the amount of time someone spent on a site after a search
  • Average Search Depth – the average number of pages viewed after a search query
google site search

What a Site Search Analysis Reveals

The analysis benefits managers by providing a sense of general navigation that occurs when the visitor looks for an important item.

For example, the search refinement column reflects when the searches are multiple rather than isolated.

User can look at the query terms and can see some potential similarities in queried terms – paper clips versus paper clip, but the refinement can be a hint for products where the queried terms are different words but similar in purpose – say “soda and pop” or “Kleenex and tissue.”

The Search Term report is where managers check if customers are usually searching for related topics or information.

site search setting

Managers should check results periodically to see which products or services are typically missing. Examining this data over time can be helpful if a product or service is repeated sought and customers are left unsatisfied by the query results.

Managers should also look at the results and see if people are exiting the page because they cannot find the item that they need.

Time after search and average search depth can reveal if such visitors are general remaining engaged after finding what they need. Low times and averages, monitored over time, may belie dissatisfaction of an unfound queried product.

The reports can also reflect where information can be better placed.

For example if customers are constantly querying a set of terms, the Pages report can indicate where visitors are navigating to a certain page. Review of the content on those pages against the queried items can spark ideas to streamline the search so users can quickly see what they are seeking.

Managers are increasingly viewing site search analysis as an essential strategy tactic for improving the customer experience. eConsultancy noted that over 50 percent of survey respondents named site search as one of the advanced reports managers used.

Building a solid customer experience includes understanding what users typically query.

Managing the data from site search reports can inspire quick ways to improve product inventory, to revise site content to highlight products better, and ultimately to help customers find what they need.

If you'd like to hear more about digital experience strategies, Pierre DeBois will be speaking at the DX Summit in Chicago on November 3. Find out more here.

Title image by Oliver Wendell