How to Get More Value From Your On-Site Search Data

  |  February 8, 2012   |  Comments

Plus, tips to enhance on-site search experiences for visitors.

When we work on search engine optimization (SEO) or pay per click (PPC) campaigns, be it keyword research to user experience to identifying missing content, it seems that we can never get enough data no matter how many tools we use. At the same time, I've noticed that not many companies were using on-site search as a data resource. On-site search data is very much underrated in my opinion. It gives you the actual user data on your site instead of general data that are oftentimes standardized or averaged. The signals you get from on-site search data are far more valuable than stats and trends you read from other sites or businesses since it reflects actual user wants and needs as well as navigation and content gaps.

Here's a list of valuable data that you can get from the on-site search, and how you should utilize them to improve on-site search experiences and your search marketing.

Search Queries

Considering the fact that the majority of site visitors on most websites come from the search engines and land on a specific page, we'd expect to see more long-tail search queries happening with on-site search. The most common being product numbers and spec (size, color, price range, etc.) related queries. You may also see some customer-support related queries. These support queries can often be an early warning sign to new bugs or problems with your product.

First, you should check to see what search results come back for some of the popular search queries to ensure that you are providing the best list of content available on the site. You should generate a report monthly to see which words are being searched and not producing any results or results that are not being clicked. Both these reports will help improve performance as well as identify content problems.

Many queries could be great candidates for the PPC campaign keywords. If you keep seeing certain queries showing up again and again, consider adding them to the SEO target keyword list, selecting a preferred landing page (PLP) for them, and optimizing them for the keywords.

On-Site Ranking Results

One of the goals for investing in SEO is to bring people to the best possible landing page that provides the information the searchers are looking for from the search results. This increases visitor retention and decreases bounce rates. The same idea applies to on-site search. Have you checked to see if your SEO PLP ranks for each SEO target keyword in your own on-site search results? A lot of work goes into PLP identification and optimization so why not maximize it? Unlike the external search engines such as Google and Bing, you realize that you have control over the on-site search results. Using "Top Page Biasing" function in most applications, you can actually specify which page should rank No. 1 for certain search queries. I suggest to all website owners to adjust their on-site search results by setting all of the key SEO words and their PLPs as the preferred page for the same phrase on on-site search. You can also remove the pages that you don't want to show up in the search results.

Missing Content

On-site search queries tell the story about the site user behavior and the goals of their visits to the site. If you see one visitor using on-site search within a short period of time entering similar queries, it probably means that the search results weren't providing what she was looking for. If you see the same queries used again and again by multiple visitors, you may want to add that to the taxonomy and in the navigation menu to help them find the page easily.

This user behavior may also be caused by the fact that you don't have quality and relevant content for that topic on site. Review the list of related on-site search queries to identify the information they are looking for, and add that content to the site. Depending on the content, it may not be suitable for the company website. In that case, use blogs, forums, and other social media to create related content.

User Feedback

User feedback provides valuable information for improving the on-site search experience and overall site experience. You should always keep it to two to three short questions, and ask very specific questions to obtain the exact types of feedback that you hope to collect. The examples of questions related to on-site search would be:

  1. What search query did you use on-site search?
  2. What information did you hope to find with that query?
  3. Did you find the information in the search results?

The feedback should be reviewed to improve:

  • SEO and PPC keywords
  • On-site search results
  • Missing content
  • Site navigation and webpage wireframe

In 2012, social media will increasingly have impact on the site visitor profile. Unlike PPC and SEO traffic, social media visitors are not always taken to the best page. Accordingly, on-site search data would become one of the strongest weapons for the site owners to stay relative to the visitor and their customer base.



Motoko Hunt

Since Motoko established AJPR in 1998, she has been providing the online marketing services targeting Japan and Asia to companies from around the world, helping them to enter the regional market using the Internet. Her search marketing consulting services with her extensive knowledge of Asia and Japanese market have been highly valued and made big impact on some of the world's popular multi-national brands' search marketing campaigns.

A number of her articles have been published on industry websites and printed media including Multilingual Computing and International Journal of Localization. She also writes about the Japanese online market on her blog and She's a frequent speaker at search marketing conferences globally, and gives seminars and trainings about search marketing targeting Japan and Asia.

Prior to entering the online marketing industry in the mid 90's, she worked as a senior marketing manager at a traditional marketing and trading firm, marketing U.S. products to Japanese government and heavy industries.

She believes in giving back to the community and volunteers her time for industry organizations. She served as a member of Board of Directors of SEMPO (Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization), and is a Chairman of SEMPO Asia-Pacific Committee. In March 2009, she received the first SEMPO President Award for her support and dedication to the search industry and SEMPO organization.

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