Evaluate the Effectiveness and Value of On-Site Search

Do you have a search engine on your site? If so, do you know how it performs? If you look beyond the basics, such as the number of pages indexed, you can collect a great deal of valuable information that can help measure overall site effectiveness.

Having an on-site search function can affect visitor behavior and desired visitor behavior. Search is often a default behavior, the first thing people do when they come to a site. In many cases, visitors don’t even explore the navigation, but go straight to the search box. No matter what percentage of visitors rely on search as a first or second option, maximizing the effectiveness and value of your on-site search is imperative.

We work with a number of on-site search tools, each with different levels of sophistication and reporting capabilities. There are also a number of metrics for understanding on-site search’s effect. Here are a few to consider:

  • Percentage of visitors using search. Do people automatically start their visit through search, or do they move through the site and rely on search when they can’t find what they want?
  • Searches per search visit. This is a measure of the number of searches a visitor conducts. The ideal is one search per search visit, meaning people search once and find what they want. Unfortunately, many sites record much more than one, often three or more searches per search visit.
  • Percentage of exits from search return page. One indication of a failed search is when a visitor exits the site from the search return page, the page that lists the search results. Ineffective searches can be frustrating if visitors follow a number of links and still doesn’t find what they want. They may simply exit the site from the results page.

    If visitors find what they want, they’ll link off the results page and continue the visit.

  • Conversion of search visits to sales. It’s important to understand how your search users convert on key metrics, such as sales and lead generation, compared to non-search users. Depending on the difference, you may want to point more or fewer people to the on-site search. If search visits convert at a higher rate, it may be worth analyzing the content visitors see when coming through search pages.
  • Average items per order for search visits vs. non-search visits. Like the conversion above, you may see a difference in average items per order or average order value.
  • Percentage of searches with no results. What percentage of visitors use on-site search and get no results? What are they looking for? What do they do when they don’t get any results on the search return page?
  • Top 10 searches. What do people search for? Understanding the most common search terms can help you determine why visitors come to your site. With this information, you can improve navigation or call-outs so people don’t need to rely as heavily on the search. Make it easier for visitors to find what they’re looking for on your site.

This is another example of how to use Web analytics to understand site performance. They aren’t generic or prepackaged reports you’ll find in WebTrends, Omniture, HBX, or the other tools out there, but all can provide data points you need to understand performance. Think about the issues you want to solve rather than focus on standard, prepackaged reports.

Once you understand these behaviors, you can tune your on-site search or site navigation based on what people search for or what you want them to find. On-site search behavior is often only reviewed at a high level, but the information that can be gleaned from it can help greatly improve user experience, and often, improve your key conversion metrics.

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