Search Analysis with Google Analytics

Jul 21 2010 by Dave Sparks | 17 Comments

Search Analysis with Google Analytics

Tracking and studying searches on your site is a valuable part of site analytics, but many site owners underestimate the benefit of it. Website search analytics can provide advantageous insights into what people are looking for on your site and also what your site looks like in search engine results.

In this guide, we’ll go over the fundamentals of search analytics, using Google Analytics as our tool.

Types of Searches

We’ll look at the two broad categories of search: external search and internal search, both of which offer different information to you as a site owner.

External search relates to the keywords people use to arrive at your site through search engines such as Google.

Internal search is tracking what users input into the search feature on your site. For example, WordPress and Drupal have built-in website search capabilities that you can log through Google Analytics. Internal search capabilities in Google Analytics require some additional set up (which we’ll cover later down in this guide).

External Search Reports in Google Analytics

External search results that bring visitors to your site are viewable in any Google Analytics account by default without further set up. Studying external search reports give you a good idea of how people get to your site. In other words, if you’re getting lots of visits for certain phrases then chances are you are ranking highly for that phrase.

External Search Reports in Google Analytics

To look at your external search keywords is rather straightforward and is shown in a "Keywords" box on the standard Google Analytics dashboard. This box shows the top five search terms that drive traffic to your site through search engines. You can then click "view report" (this might also say "view full report," which is the same thing) at the bottom of the box to look at a more thorough overview of the results.

If you don’t see the "Keywords" box, you can still get to your Keywords report by using the navigation menu on the left, Traffic Sources > Keywords.

External Search Reports in Google Analytics

As with many Google Analytics report pages, you will have the time/visits graph showing you the amount of traffic generated by search engine keywords over the past month.

Underneath the graph, you will have your table of keywords where you can start to extract some more meaningful information. By default, this table shows 10 rows.

External Search Reports in Google Analytics

What Should You Be Looking For?

To start with, it would be interesting to see what your popular keywords are. It would be helpful to analyze what search phrases are bringing people to your site. Are the keywords you are seeing to be expected? Do you need other keywords to be ranking well in your site?

For example, if your site were about Sudoku puzzles, you would expect to see words and phrases such as "sudoku," "sudoku puzzles" and so forth to comprise most of the top search key phrases.

However, you might also discover other key phrases that people use that you didn’t expect such as "brain games" and "mental agility exercises" that you can consider when you create more content for your Sudoku site to improve the ranking of these keywords.

This report is a good barometer for seeing how your site looks like to search engines. If you have some unexpected phrases in your top results, then you might want to ask yourself why they are there. Does it have a positive effect on your site in that you’re drawing in the audience you are targeting? Or are they arriving there by accident because of an ambiguous key phrase and thus you aren’t effectively getting the right type of people viewing your site?

Using the Filter Keywords Feature to Find Trends

You want to pay attention to trends, so it’s worth filtering out some results before you start digging any further. For example, you’ll have plenty of results that have only been used once; you want to filter these out because just one use of a search term doesn’t really show a trend.

To filter out non-trending search terms, pick a minimum number of page visits. This is going to be relative to the amount of traffic you get on your site and how long your website has been up (newer sites might not yet be highly visible in search engine results, and thus, would have limited information). I’d normally say about 10 visits is a good minimum.

Once you have figured out the minimum number of page visits, it’s time to filter.

At the bottom left of the Keywords report page, there is "Filter Keyword" option, and beside it, an "Advanced Filter" link. Click the "Advanced Filter" link — this will expand a new set of options for more refined reports.

Click on the "Add new condition" dropdown, and then choose the Visits option under Site Usage.

External Search Reports in Google Analytics

External Search Reports in Google Analytics

After adding the new condition, you will see a conditional statement dropdown menu, which will have options such as "Less than," "Less than or equal to," "Greater than", and so forth. In this menu, choose "Greater than" and then enter "10" in the input field beside it — our filter should now read, "Visits Greater than 10." Finally, click on the "Apply Filter" button to filter your results.

External Search Reports in Google Analytics

You can browse around these results, comparing the number of visits from different phrases to get a good idea of what your site is doing best.

For example, are people who arrive through the keyword "apple" spending more time browsing than people who arrive via "banana"? It’s likely that your site is proving to be more interesting towards people who like apples, and so you could make educated design changes using this information, such as making it more attractive to banana lovers to get them to spend more time on your site or just focusing on apple lovers to get more of them to come.

Analyzing Bounce Rate

Another good figure to look at is the bounce rate for search terms. A quick click on the Bounce Rate column heading will sort the table by bounce rate.

Analyzing Bounce Rate

A high bounce rate will show that your site isn’t really appealing to people looking for a particular search term. If it’s supposed to be appealing, then it’s time to figure out why.

Let’s say you have a high bounce rate for the phrase "chicken farming" yet it’s something you think people would want to read about on your site.

In the first column (under "Keyword"), click on the keyword that has a high bounce rate ("chicken farming" in this instance); this will take you to a new screen where you will get more detailed data about that particular search term.

Analyzing Bounce Rate

Staying on the Site Usage tab and clicking on the box that says "None" will give you options for a variety of metrics that you can dig into for discovering trends, such as "Language," "Continent," "Browser" and so forth.

Analyzing Bounce Rate

For this particular task of realizing why a particular term has a high bounce rate, a good metric to look at is "Landing Page" to see which web pages visitors are actually leaving from.

A Note about New Visits Stats

One thing you may notice when you’re digging into external search reports is that many Keyword metrics will show mostly new visits. This stands to reason, as many returning visitors will often come straight to your site without using a search engine (e.g., they have bookmarked your site or have remembered your website address).

Internal Search Reports in Google Analytics

Next, let us discuss internal search reports; search phrases that are used on your site’s native search feature. Internal search tracking will give you great insight into what users are expecting to find on your site and the effectiveness of your information architecture.

Once internal search is set up, you should be able to view what people have been typing into your search boxes.

What Internal Search Reports Are Telling You

The data you obtain from internal search analytics is essentially a resource that tells you what your visitors cannot find on your site.

For example, if you sell clothing and you have hundreds of searches for "pink ball gowns" but you don’t sell them, it might just be worth looking into selling pink ball gowns.

If you receive a lot of searches for pink ball gowns, but you have a link to your pink ball gowns category right on your navigation bar, then there’s a good chance there’s something wrong with your site navigation’s design and effectiveness.

Setting Up Internal Search Analytics

To set up site search reporting, navigate to Content > Site Search in Google Analytics’ left menu. When you go to this menu item, you’ll receive some instructions for setting up your site search.

As a quick example, we’ll look at setting up site search for a WordPress site.

Firstly, you need to figure out what URL variable is being used for the search feature on your site. Google Analytics refers to this as "Query Parameter." The easiest way to figure out your Query Parameter is by typing in a search keyword into your site search and then looking at the resulting URL afterwards.

In WordPress, doing a search using the built-in search feature should send you to a page such as http://www.yoursite.com/?s=search+term, which shows that the search term is passed in the URL as a URL variable called s.

In Drupal, the search result page’s URL looks like:

http:// www.yoursite.com/index.php?q=search/node/search+term

This means that the URL variable is q.

Once you’ve figured this out, click on "Edit" under the Website Profiles summary table that you can find by navigating to the first screen of Google Analytics when you first log in, or by clicking on "Analytics Settings" right below the Google Analytics logo.

Setting Up Internal Search Analytics

This will take you to the Profile Settings page for your site. Click "Edit" beside the Main Website Profile Information box heading. This will take you to the Edit Profile Information page.

Setting Up Internal Search Analytics

In the Edit Profile Information page, scroll down to the Site Search section and choose the "Do Track Site Search" option; choosing this will reveal more options.

Setting Up Internal Search Analytics

The only box you need to fill in is the "Query Parameter" option, which in the case of WordPress’ built-in search, we figured out to be the URL variable of "s". Enter that value and click the Save Changes button at the bottom of the page.

Setting Up Internal Search Analytics

Hey — Presto! — your site search is now set up. You just have to leave it alone for a little while so that it gets a chance to gather some results.

Viewing Internal Site Search Reports

To look at your Site Search reports, go to Content > Site Search. The first thing you’ll notice is that there are a few new sections you might not be familiar with if you haven’t set up Site Search before.

Setting Up Internal Search Analytics

Don’t feel too daunted though, as everything you need can be accessed quite easily from the Content > Site Search > Overview page. Additionally, Google has also handily put a few helpful links on this page to answer some questions you may have.

By clicking on the various sections on the Overview page, you can quickly see some useful information about your internal site search. Let’s examine some of these report pages.

Search Terms Report

One of the easiest places to start getting information from is the Search Terms page.

Setting Up Internal Search Analytics

Simply ordering/sorting the data using the various columns will start to give you a feel for what people are doing in terms of internal site search.

The default is ordered by total unique searches and whatever phrases are at the top will clue you in on a couple of things.

The first thing is this: If a phrase is on something that is already on your website, then this is indicating that people can’t find (or can’t be bothered to try to find) it through your normal site navigation.

The second thing to look for is phrases that relate to things that aren’t on your site. In this case, a large volume of searches will show what people are expecting to find from your site. If these things are something you think you should be offering, then why aren’t you?

However, if popular site search phrases are unrelated to the nature of your site, then maybe people haven’t understood what your site is actually about. This could imply many things that you could be doing to improve the content, structure, and design of your site, such as including a site summary or tagline in a visible location on all your web pages or improving your About page to clearly state your site’s objectives.

Some site search features have default values that act as placeholders (such as "Enter search term…" or "Search…"); these search terms might therefore show trends in your Search Terms report.

Setting Up Internal Search Analytics

This isn’t uncommon and is caused by people accidentally clicking your site search feature before entering their search term. If it happens too much though, there might be something wrong with the design or functionality of your site search feature. It could be, for instance, a web-browser-specific bug, and in that instance, it would be helpful to see if you can hunt down a pattern in the occurrences of these search terms for a certain web browser.

Usage Report

Another page under Site Search to go and see is Usage.

Usage Report

Usage shows you a simple comparison of page visits where people use site search versus visits where people don’t use site search.

This is really a very subjective measure because it all depends on the nature of your website. Amazon, for example, probably has a large number of visits where search is used, but that doesn’t mean much in terms of the failure of their information structure because they want people to use site search to find highly specific things, using the site search feature as a prominent element of their site design.

In short, these figures can be good or bad depending on your intent.

Start Pages

The next page after Usage is the Start Pages. This report displays where visitors tend to use site search from. This report can identify navigational dead-ends in your site — pages where people get confused as to what to do next.

Don’t be too concerned if your home/front page ranks highly in this report. Often people will visit your site knowing what they want, so they’ll tap it straight into the search box from your main page.

However, if a particular landing page seems odd, such as an e-commerce checkout page where you want people to effortlessly buy your products, then you might need to look at the efficacy of your procedure for buying products on your site.

Goals

The last thing I want to talk about is the Goals report. Before, I talked about setting up Goals and Funnels in Google Analytics (read that guide if you’re unfamiliar with the term). This report is useful for seeing the effectiveness of turning your search results into conversions. After clicking on the Goals tab, a quick summary at the top of the page will report some basic figures. If you aren’t turning many of your searches into conversions, it could well be worth looking at the quality of your results in delivering the desired information to users in order to keep them interested.

Analyze and Explore Your Search Terms

It’s essential to note that we have barely scratched the surface of search analytics. This guide was meant to highlight the fundamentals and set you on your path to exploring the subject further. If you have any questions or additional tips, please do share in the comments — let’s talk about search analysis!

Related Content

About the Author

Dave Sparks is a web designer and developer working for Armitage Online in the Lake District. He can be found writing about various web topics on his blog at Kamikazemusic.com, twittering as twitter.com/dsparks83 and working on his website analytics project – Stat Share.

17 Comments

Rochelle Dancel

July 21st, 2010

Thank you for this very informative article. I’m sure many people add Google Analytics to their site as a matter of standard practice, but few go beyond exploring the default and most obvious features of analytics reporting so this article is a great starting point. Thanks!

Michael Tuck

July 21st, 2010

Excellent, Dave. Google Analytics confuses the h*ll out of me, so this article will be very useful. (And Rochelle states my use of the analytics perfectly…) Thanks!

cancel bubble

July 21st, 2010

Checking search terms (as well as 404s) is also useful to check for XSS attacks.

Barbara Bix

July 21st, 2010

Great article. Love to see more like this!

Duran

July 22nd, 2010

Great post Dave. something is missing here though. i think Google’s approach for training in analytics is minimal because they don’t make money directly from it.

this is not so cool because on their ad-words program they really do the best they can to train the users.

i do believe that they miss out the point where a good analytics user is a user who can analyze his campaign performance on a higher level thus more chance that he will be a satisfied ad-words user.

Dave Sparks

July 23rd, 2010

Duran, I agree – it is amazing how many people blindly throw money at ad words without seeing what it is actually returning. Proper setting up of goals and analytics prior to starting an ad words campaign is vital and given that ad-words links in so well to Google analytics it should really have a bit more info.
Another article coming on there maybe!

Karl Gilis

August 3rd, 2010

Excellent article. I’v added it to my favorites.

On my search for more information about the site search feature, I also discoverd this article. It’s not about the tech part of how to set it up (what you described here), but how you can turn your knowledge of what people search on your website into a profit. Here’s the link http://webusability-blog.com/analyse-your-site-search-to-increase-roi/

Sitebase

August 21st, 2010

Great article. Especially the part about the keyword filters.

gula-merah.co.id

September 20th, 2010

Im still confused with Query Parameter, help me please how to use it….

Casey

November 4th, 2010

Great article, Dave. Always nice to get a refresher on the core features.

Bahadur

March 2nd, 2011

This was a very nice and detailed post – there are also ways where you can track the keyword you received traffic from and also as to what PAGE your website was on for that keyword when an individual clicked on it. I also use something called REF Code Analytics ( http://www.9thsphere.com/refcode-analytics.html ) – it is a different analytics tool that allows you to measure and track visitors information that don’t fill out a contact form per say – but rather just call your business or company directly. REF Code can then be linked together with Google Analytics as well and lets you see all the details of any general visitor. It is definitely something any company that is based on a high volume of calls, should install on their website for analytics purposes.

WAO

June 30th, 2011

Dave, firstly I would like to thank you for this insightful post.
Secondly, I would like to add that once a webmaster is comfortable with these basics it is wise to go and get more custom reports according to ones need. Learning how to use regular expressions can help you set advanced filters and profile data that you won’t get otherwise. I recommend on learning with Google’s free seminars- The conversion university online course to go and use the full power of web analytics in order to increase site’s potential for conversions.

Aviva B

September 12th, 2011

I know you wrote this a while ago, but I got to it because I had enabled site search, and nothing had ever shown up. I then tried recently to do my own search (yes, I took off my filter and disabled my Analytics Blocking Add-on so it would catch it), and still nothing showed up. Any ideas about what might be wrong?
Thanks!

ori

October 5th, 2011

Dave, firstly I would like to thank you for this insightful post.

today we working with the new virsion. do u have any post who can show ut in the new virsion?

Or

October 15th, 2011

Hey Dave, Really cool Idea, but I heard that google can spy on you with google analytic which can be bad if your are doing SEO actively (not in a natural way).
making the same thing with a different tracking platform can be great.

what do you say?

mipa

October 24th, 2011

thanks! great reading…….and it’s good idea good luck!

tal

November 28th, 2011

first of all- thanks for the post, it was very insightful.
and a question – do you have post or an article about the new version? an updates one?
thanks

Leave a Comment

Subscribe to the comments on this article.