In the construction and architecture of the site it is not possible to predict all the needs of users: although the taxonomy is accurate and effective, there will always be factors that will escape the design because linked to specific moments or requests. For this it is useful to provide a search bar inside the site and, above all, track and analyze searches made by users, which can help us to optimize organic traffic and increase revenues and conversions.

What is the internal site search

Each site has – or should have – built-in search capabilities to allow users to quickly find products, articles or services that they can not find at a glance by scrolling through the categories or calling differently.

It typically looks like a simple blank search box, which allows each person to type a longer term or query and to get in response a list of results of the pages on that site that probably contain what they’re looking for.

If the site uses a CMS like WordPress or Prestashop, the internal search results page will have a URL with a query string consisting of a parameter ? s= (for WordPress) or ? q= (for Prestashop) followed by the keyword entered. When we use Google to search for a term, instead, the search parameter of Google is ? q= followed by our query.

The usefulness of the internal search

The internal search is not only a means to facilitate user experience, but it is also a system to track the behavior of visitors and get important information about possible limitations of the site architecture, navigation modes and – in some cases – also on used or unused keywords.

Making the content easy to access and uncovering gaps – in the texts or in the structural organisation of the project – are some of the main SEO challenges. In addition, we know that the user experience is becoming increasingly important for those who have a site, also in view of the start of the Google Page Experience update, and having a poor UX can limit the customer journey because it creates blocks to conversions.

How to exploit information to improve the site

It is precisely the  internal research that can help us to uncover some of these gaps and to make the most of existing traffic, finding information that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Tracing the results of the queries entered directly by the users we can for example verify if some products are difficult to find within the site, if they have been nominated in an ineffective way (using variants of the term more sought and actually used), or even if there are related or latent keywords and new categories that might be useful to enter in the menu.

We can also verify that our contents – whether product pages, news or blog articles – really respond to the topics that interest visitors and that push them to a search in the appropriate box, and above all find new ideas. If users are looking for specific products that we do not sell – but are related to those of eCommerce and can become a possible source of business – or if they are intrigued by news or untreated topics, we can think of adding such content and therefore respond to market demands.

It is also important to understand from which page the search starts, because this information allows us to understand if there are deficiencies in the contents or if there are products that deserve to have a greater visibility (because hidden or very much in demand at that particular moment).

How to track internal searches with Google Analytics

The best and easiest way to get all the data needed for our strategy is to use Google Analytics and associate the internal monitoring code of the site, also know as the set search parameter.

Within the Site Search report we will find all the information we need, starting from an overall overview of the site visits that have included the use of search functionality and interaction occurred after the search, and then again a monitoring of user behavior, a deep analysis of the pages and a list of the searched keywords.

In this way, we can for example discover:

  • How many pages people needed to find what they wanted.
  • How many visitors quit and left the website.
  • Which keywords did not generate good enough results, prompting users to refine the terms.
  • How stubborn visitors were with their demand, based on the number of result pages consulted.
  • Most common queries
  • Trends and identification of new searches, which can help us find products to add or topics to write about.
  • Identify common spelling errors or other ways to express something.
  • Which areas of the site people choose to reach with the search instead of through a navigation menu.
  • Which queries lead users to interact with the website.
  • Queries with good conversion rates.

8 suggestions to optimize the internal search

The search inside the site is therefore a hidden gem that you can not overlook in effective SEO strategy, because it allows us to intervene to improve user experience and conversions and, In addition, it literally shows us what is missing in our content strategy and product range.

The expert Marco Bonomo, from the pages of Search Engine Watch, highlighted eight simple tips for internal site search optimization that can help us to improve the performance of the site.

  1. Making the internal site search a part of the optimization routine

After setting up the internal site search feature and putting into practice the basics to monitor user behavior, we must make these analyses part of our optimization process routine. Metrics such as output rates, search refinements, or “zero result” search queries are particularly relevant for adding an additional layer of information to our audits and reports and offer additional data-driven insights.

  1. Using the Google Analytics segments at their best to assess the behaviour of users

Google Analytics segments are subsets of data that are useful for examining trends in the industry to filter a portion of traffic based on specific behavior, such as identifying only “organic” visitors. With Site Search we can know how and how much users use the search function, what terms they enter and how effectively the search results create a deeper involvement with the site.

The article suggests us to pay attention to one aspect: Google tools are set in default on users and not on sessions. This could lead to some problems in the analysis – for example, we could read data from users with a history of multiple sessions and purchases, but still looking for other information within the site – but it is easily solved by setting the analysis to sessions or adding the condition “Bounces = 0” to exclude users who are less relevant to the analysis.

  1. Analyzing the internal search flow in Google Analytics

The Google platform also helps us with the report “Users Flow”, which is described as “a graphical representation of the paths followed by the users in the site, from the source, through the various pages, up to the points along the path where the users left the site”.

With this tool we can immerse ourselves in the data on the site public, analyzing in depth its behavior and revealing further gaps in the UX and in the management of internal links. To set it up, we need to add the custom search path of your site (for example “/?q”) in the pop-up window starting from the node we are interested in investigating, so as to visualize the specific path users take after launching the search.

  1. Using Google Tag Manager to find out “result zero” search queries

Analyzing search terms is a great way to get an understanding of what users are looking for, but what happens when the typed queries have not produced any results? Fortunately, Bonomo explains, there is a quick solution for this, namely the creation of a custom tag of Google Tag Manager and an event on Analytics, that allow us to keep track of these queries and to identify even more gaps in our content or product ranges.

  1. Implementing a smart search solution

To improve internal search we can use third-party softwares, especially useful for eCommerce: with these tools, navigation between thousands of products can be carried out more efficiently, simply implementing functions that help improve the conversion rate. Features such as automatic tips or suggested products have become a must in online commerce because they help to maximize the revenues of search on the site.

  1. Adding a voice search feature

Especially if we work in a B2C niche, “it is definitely worth considering adding a voice search feature to the site’s internal search,” the article suggests. Considering that smartphones and tablets are already generating over 50% of traffic, it makes sense to make the search on the site even more accessible by adding a feature that can only grow over time, as demonstrated by the trends in voice search.

  1. Consider disabling the Google search bar

Apparently, the idea of disabling the Google search bar (which allows users to perform quick and immediate searches on the site or app from the search results page) might seem bizarre, but it can be useful in particular cases.

For example, “a great e-commerce like Amazon might want to take advantage of the homepage to view custom offers and encourage users to buy items they haven’t even thought of, thanks to a clever combination of search history and flash discounts”, writes the author.

That then suggests you follow the guidelines of the Google sitelink search box and remove the feature for a short period of time, testing the results to see if this solution also works for our ecommerce.

  1. Using Google Data Studio for the reports on the internal site search

To make sure that an onsite search is really part of our optimization routine, Bonomo also recommends creating a dedicated dashboard in Google Data Studio for the weekly or monthly search. The key metrics he suggests to display are the main search terms, search outputs, search refinements, revenues, with the ability to filter by country and dates.


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