Need a quick Usability Test? Have you looked at Google Site Search?

Google Site Search is one of those additional functionalities in Google Analytics that is very easy to skip over.  Once again I’m picking up a topic that Shelby Thayer already started on Trending Upward, but I think that it’s completely worth mentioning again.  Spending time in your Site Search data is definitely something that should consume some of your free time!  Here is your visitors telling you exactly what they want and how they go about finding it.  Maybe you think it’s obvious how to find a certain page on your site, but you have this wealth of data right at your fingertips telling you that it’s not as easy to find as you might think.  Remember it’s not about you it’s about your visitors.

Setting up Internal Site Search

Well as I’ve discussed in other posts when you setup a Google Analytics Profile there is a radio button at the bottom that allows you to setup Site Search for this profile.  Simply do this and give it your query parameter and you are ready to go.  For a little more instruction on setting this up check out my Google Analytics 101 post.

Looking at the Site Search Report

The Site Search menu is located under the Content tab in your analytics profile and provides a wealth of knowledge.  Remember this is what individuals are search for once they are on your site and using your internal search engine.  This is not individuals that are on Google, Yahoo, or another search engine, but actual visitors who care about your site and are simply looking for something.  Either they are too lazy to try and navigate to it or have simply become frustrated and resorted to a search.  Let’s take a little closer look at  some of the reports.

Usage Report

This is a very simple report.  Either visitors used the Site Search or they didn’t.  Pretty simple.  So what percentage of your visitors are relying on search to navigate?  How does this affect their time on the site and bounce rate?  Those are both important questions.  You can drill down into each of these types.  A good metric to notice is that of these visitor types how do returning visitors search compared to new visitors?  Are your visitors continuing to rely on your search to find content or once they find it are you providing them with additional navigation elements to make it easier to locate next time?  This is not always a bad thing as I’ve seen data that says that over half visitors to a new site will search instead of even trying to navigate the site.  This makes it all that more important for your site to be optimized for search engines.

Search Terms

The Site Search Terms report tells you what terms people are searching.  This is the bread and butter report inside of Site Search.  AKA this is what I want to find, but it’s either:

a) not easily located off your homepage
b) I don’t know where to find it but I want it now

The report is ordered by total searches for terms, but looking at long tail results can help you discover some interesting ways that users think.  There are many examples of this but one might be you think of it as “greek life” but your visitors are searching for “fraternity” and “sorority” in much larger numbers.  Maybe they are even searching for “fraternities” or even “greek”.  Sounds to me like our users are GIVING us excellent keyword data?  Remember it’s not what you think people look for it’s what they actually search for that is important.

Also go and spend the time to type in the words that individuals are searching for and see if they give you a satisfiable result.  If not maybe you can tweak your actionable on page SEO to help the end user experience.  What is “on page SEO”?  Well I guess that’s a post I do need to write, but for now it’s page titles, meta data, and keyword frequency on the page while also other pages linking to the page with these keywords in their URL.  Since this is the second time I’ve mentioned SEO here’s a nice little introductory piece I wrote about on page college homepage optimization.

Start Pages Report

Hey guess what?  You can actually tell which page on your site your searcher are when they begin a search!  Why does this matter you ask?  If 65% of your searches are from your homepage then your visitors probably fall more into the lazy crowd.  If you find out visitors are deep inside your academic section and looking for a way to apply or schedule a visit well JACKPOT!  Maybe we need to make that information easier to get to and help lead them along.  This can also help you to identify pages that are potential deadends.  Deadends are pages people are getting to looking for something, but it’s not what they wanted or needed.  Hey if they are searching at least they aren’t leaving your site.  Take a look at the exit rates of these pages compared to searches starting on them.

Destination Pages Report

So once they performed a search on your site.  Did the visitor find what they wanted or did they have to search again?  Maybe they simply got frustrated and left your site.  Here is where you can find out that sort of data.  Also after performing a search and getting a result how many additional pages did they visit?

Key Takeaways

You will notice that searches are seasonal.  At the start of the year maybe bookstore and information about greek life are more important.  Over the summer tuition and searches for job related keywords might be more.  Nearing the end of the semester searches for exam schedules tend to rise.  Knowing these kind of trends can help you prepare and layout activities appropriately.

As always the user experience is most important so give people what they want.  Assuming that you know what is going on is a false sense.  Look at the data and I’m sure not only will you have a few “well duh” moments, but also quite a few “ah I never thought about that before”.  Finally remember to give people what they want.  Remember to give people what they want you have to know what they want and if your not directly talking to them then your site search data might be one of your best resources.

4 Responses to “Need a quick Usability Test? Have you looked at Google Site Search?”

  1. Says:

    this article is covering information we’ve known and talked about with clients for over 10 years. still, there is no substitute for pulling 10 folks in for an actual personal analysis called ‘usability testing’.

  2. Says:

    Start pages report is key! I actually just ran one today on our Military page. Our military page is full of policies and procedures for military, but the program information is buried at the end. Guess what users are searching for from that page? Yup … program information. Time to restructure the page! I love actionable reports!!

    Thanks Kyle!

  3. Says:

    I do some work for educational institutions and their implemented search functions just don’t work. I.e. no results come up.

    I’m only working for a small department and I really have trouble with the upper web management.

    Though I try to differentiate the work that I do it still needs to fit and stay consistent.

    Thanks for the post, I’ll be implementing some searching pretty soon and I’ll be back here.


  4. Says:

    The information is very good and I did not know of this until I visited this blog.