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Friday, November 9, 2007

Measuring Internal Search

Hello again everyone, it's been a while since my last post. Today I'd like to talk about internal search and how best to approach measuring it. Almost any analytics solution will allow you to track raw instances of each term entered into a site's internal search engine. In fact, many search applications will provide analytics reporting to the business users. But the key here, along with anything else in this space, is how to act on this information.

OK, so you've tagged your site to track each search term and you know what you're visitors are searching for, great! Now what? First and foremost, DO NOT ASSUME that visitors are searching from just your "home page." For some reason, many analysts (including myself) think of search in terms of landing on an unfamiliar site. Is search enabled/persistent across every page within your site? I hope so! If that is the case, then you need to pass the page the visitor was on when they executed a search, the term they entered and the content they viewed as a result of their search. How? By appending unique parameter strings to your URLs and pass that information to your reporting tool.

Let's take a look at what I mean via The screen shot below illustrates what content I'm viewing, found their via their navigational links. In this case, it a Samsung HDTV that' I'm trying to talk my wife into buying so we can watch the Super Bowl, er, I mean cuddle up and watch a nice movie together.

Take a good look at the Page title and URL. It contains the actual model number of the product I'm looking at and the site section that I'm in. (This is a great example as to the power of parameter strings and relevant page titles towards SEO.)

Let's see what happens when I search for Invicta watches:

The page title and URL indicates what page/section I was on when I searched for "Invicta!" Let's look close at the query parameter string.
  • ?url=search-alias%3Daudio-video&field-keywords=Invicta&x=16&y=16

"url=Search-alias" tells us that a search was executed and "field-keywords=Invicta" gives us what I entered. You could pass these entities to separate reports depending on what analytics package you are using. Navigational analysis will tell us what I clicked on within the "Search Results" page. If you cannot track this kind of information and aggregate into something actionable, then get your analytics vendor in to make it work or dump them!

So now what do we do? Strategize on how you're going to act on this information. What business problems can I solve? If I cannot get to certain content easily while I'm deep within the bowels of your site, perhaps you'll need to evaluate your navigational design. Another great idea is to create a frame that provides a "Top 10 or 20 Items Searched For" and have it persist throughout the site. I hope you enjoyed this post and welcome replies to it!



Chas said...

Good post. I think this is a great bit of advice about understanding the diference between a home page search and searches on other pages. On home pages, searches may be used to initially engage with the site, where on internal pages, it may be in response to not finding items othe ways.

Adam Berlinger said...

My point exactly! Thanks for your input.

Daniel Shields said...

The benefits far outweigh the resources consumed. Site search is a bridge between quantitative and qualitative data with insights to behaviors, linguistics, and can act as a primary means to uncover more effective calls to action by tweaking. has done months of research to improve its capacity to ease and aid in user searching. We've found the connection between search and conversion very high and have since developed applications to aid in presenting dynamic content on the page based on incoming search terms to close the gap.

I'm always interested in sharing research. Let me know if I can help augment your efforts. That goes for any readers as well. Send an email to me:

Best Wishes.....Sincerely,

Daniel W. Shields
Analyst/Contributor, Inc.

Luc said...

Your post is very interesting. To be honest, up until now I did not
analyse my internal search reports from this "from where are the
visitors searching for what" view as you suggest. I was analysing the
keywords themselves, to check if my customers' sites offered the kind
of information people are looking for and to check if people where
using the same keywords as the one used by the customer: often you find
that people are using synomyms that result in zero result queries,
although you have the information on your site, but using other terms.
Since I also administer the internal fast engine (e.g. FAST ESP), I
could tune the internal search using boosts & synonyms.

Your perspective is a very challenging one - but maybe more difficult
to act on ? I can imagine that it is not easy to interprete this
clickstream before and after the query ?


Anonymous said...

Nice Posting Adam, i agree with you totally. Search analyses is a very major thing to do.
From my point of view it gives you a wide varity of things to do. Imagine a page that predictivly knows what you are looking for just by the the combination of where you have initiated the search from and for what you have searched.
Also that can be use for advanced personalisation. The combination of "preferences, search initiated and search query" makes a intranet much more efficient.

Heiko Specht

Sadira said...

Well written article.