The terms that customers type into your internal search function can represent a wealth of valuable data.
This data can help you to gain an understanding of user behaviour and can be used to improve site search and more.
In this post I'll look at some of the ways this data can be used...
Review the top site search terms
The most popular site search terms used on your site gives you an insight into the product and services people are looking for.
If you stock these products, you could optimize search results to ensure they are displayed more prominently.
For example, using auto-complete, you could show the bestsellers as Kohl's does here:
Use the data to assist buyers and sales teams
Data on top site searches can be really useful for buyers, who need to know when demand changes and how to judge demand for products not currently stocked.
Use search data to improve merchandising relevance
Knowing the top search terms helps you to understand your most popular products, but there is a deeper level of insight that can also be useful for merchandisers.
For example, if you sell televisions and the most popular search term is '32" Sony TV" then this tells you which products should be displayed most prominently in site search and on category pages.
Identifying unsatisfactory site search results
Poor results could mean no results returned for searches, but could also mean too many results.
Here, a search on Amazon for a MacBook charger returns 1,693 results, many of which are irrelevant.
This is too much choice for the shopper, and actually makes it harder to find the right product.
This can be 'fixed' by providing effective filtering options, or by displaying the top rated or best selling products most prominently.
Timing of keywords used
Knowing when people are searching for particular products can help to identify trends and patterns and give your site a competitive advantage.
For example, knowing when customers begin to search for Christmas gifts can help retailers make decisions on when to stock certain items. It can also inform PPC campaign timing.
This provides an indication of the relevance of site search results and how deeply visitors go into the results.
For example, if they're clicking through to pages four and five of your site search results, does that mean they're struggling to find what they're looking for?
Where are users clicking on your search results?
You will most likely see the highest number of clicks on the first page of search results and in the first few results.
If this is not happening, it's another sign that results aren't as relevant as they could be.
Usage of site search
What percentage of visitors are using your site search function? This will vary between types of site, but if you have a benchmark to compare yours with, you can identify possible issues.
If too many are using it, does this mean your navigation isn't as good as it could be? Conversely, a low percentage of site search usage could mean it needs to be more prominent for instance.
The screenshot above shows the usage of ClickZ s site search. Not a high percentage, but it does tend to be lower for publishers.
Understanding the value of keywords used from the search box i.e. which are converting most effectively can directly inform PPC strategies. It can also provide other marketing teams with more focus when planning their campaigns.
To inform SEO and PPC
The keywords that people use on your site could be terms that you aren't currently targeting via SEO or PPC.
If so, analysing site search data is a great way to find more relevant terms to target.
Also, the keywords that people use to search within your website are likely to be the same terms they use on search engines.
The language used can also reflect how people actually search, rather than your own idea of what people look for.
Are visitors finding what they want?
Looking at data on the proportion of search exits (users who leave the site after viewing site search results) can tell you whether or not site search is delivering relevance. .
Taking the time to understand and analyse the search activity going on within your website can make a real difference to the effectiveness of your site search function.
Just as importantly, it can be used to inform and optimize other marketing efforts, most obviously SEO and PPC.
I'm sure there are other things to look for beyond those I've outlined here. Let me know in the comments.
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