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Analyse your site search to increase ROI

Why is it important to analyse your own site search?

Knowing what people search for on your site is very, very interesting. After all, these people are already on your website. And they're probably using your search feature because they can't immediately find what they're looking for. At least, that's what we usually notice during user tests.

What do you have to do?

  1. Make sure you can analyse the search queries on your website
    Earlier, we talked about how to hook up your own site search to Google Analytics. Of course there are other tools out there, but they're often expensive and quite frankly not as good.
  2. Analyse the list of most frequently used search words a couple of times per year
    Take into account spelling and wording variations and group these together. People looking for a 'gun license', 'handgun license' and 'gun permit' are all looking for the same thing. The filters in Google Analytics come in quite handy here.

Typical discoveries when analysing a search feature

  • People look for things that appear to be hard to find through the navigation structure
  • They look for things that aren't on your website
  • They type in old product names and even your competitors' product names
  • They don't use the same words you do
  • People can't spell very well... at all

How can you turn that knowledge into a profit?

  • Improve the structure of your website and your overview pages
    Bring the top tasks to the fore in your structure or draw attention to them by giving them a prominent place on the homepage and overview pages (also called landing pages, index pages or category pages). Rewrite your content where necessary. Make sure you create pages that are easily scannable. That way you improve your information architecture and overall website usability.

  • Expand your content
    Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying you should start churning out random content. Far from it. But, after you've deleted all the content people aren't interested in (and there will be loads of it, trust me), you should think about creating content people áre looking for but that you're not offering yet.

  • Connect discontinued products to similar new products
    Don't disappoint people who type in names of discontinued products or old product names. Tell them which current products correspond to those older products they already know and apparently still want. Do the same if people type in your competitors' product names or product codes. People who do that are most likely not looking for that exact product but just something similar.

  • Use the same words as your users or make your search feature smarter
    If your visitors don't use the same words your website does, you're the one who needs to change. Or at least expand your vocabulary. You can also make your search feature smarter by hooking it up to a thesaurus with synonyms.

  • Take common spelling errors into account
    Depending on your search software (and your budget) you can automatically correct spelling errors or suggest alternatives. If you can't afford to do that, and it turns out 1 out of 4 people use the same miss-spelling for a particular word, put that spelling error in the meta-data of the most relevant page, or use the wrong spelling on the page somewhere.

Examples

  • Gun permit on government site
    On a government site, we noticed that 'gun permit' (and all its variations) was continually in the top 5 searches. Because guns aren't exactly a popular topic, it wasn't deemed very important and was put on the 3rd level of the structure somewhere. But it's apparently one of the site's top tasks.

  • E-commerce site with unclear delivery information
    Almost the entire top 5 searches on this e-commerce site consisted of things like delivery options, shipping costs, payment methods etc. A clear indication these things needed to be clearer and not just tucked away under a link 'Terms of sale'.

  • Old product names and competitors' product codes at a cable manufacturer's site
    On the site of a leading cable manufacturer we noticed large volumes of searches on product codes and product names. Makes sense, right. But when we probed a little deeper, we noticed that a lot of the searches weren't producing any results. Delving deeper still, it appeared that the product names were old names the cable cmpany didn't use anymore but apparently the customers still did. User research taught us those people weren't looking for support for the old products, they were simply looking for a replacement. They wanted to re-order the product. The solution: tell customers the old product name or code doesn't exist anymore and show them the new products with similar characteristics. The result: an increase in sales.

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