Google Analytics – Site Search | npENGAGE

Google Analytics – Site Search

By on Aug 17, 2011


This post is the fifth in an ongoing series about Google
Analytics. As we proceed, I’ll share tips on how you can use this tool
to gain more insight into your online marketing. I’ll start off with the
basics, but then we’ll get into some advanced techniques.

you’re not yet familiar with Google Analytics, it’s a free tool from
Google that you can add to your site to give you information about how
people are coming to your website and how they behave when they get
there. Read the first post for an overview of the Dashboard and the second and third posts for a tour through some of the most useful reports around visitors & even more exciting reports about visitors and the fourth post on excluding internal traffic from Google Analytics reports

When you think of search engines, you probably think of Google, but maybe not Google Analytics. Your site probably has search functionality, so use Google analytics to track it.

Why should be interested? If you find things that people are searching for, maybe they need to be promoted more heavily on your site. People often browse individual websites and only search as a last resort (ecommerce sites are notable exceptions to this rule). Or maybe you use a different term for something than users do. If your site talked about a “put yourself on the pathway towards victory” program, but users often search for “buy a brick”, then you maybe you need to add user-centered language to your promotions.

Most popular website search widgets are pretty easy to track through Google Analytics. To set up site search tracking, first, find your search parameters:

  • Do a search on your site
    • Look at the URL of the search results page. It will include something like ?query=stuff
    • Query would be your search parameter
  • Do a new search from the search results page
    • The URL may now include something like ?q=things
    • Q would be another search parameter

Next, go to your profile and click “Edit”. In the top area, turn on site search, and enter your search parameters.


Now your profile will start collecting data on searches. Wait a few days or a few weeks, and then look at the site search report under the content heading. You’ll now be able to see what percentage of visitors use search. Depending on the nature of your site, that might be a high or low number, but pay attention if it changes significantly over time.

Results page views per search is the number of pages people sort through before finding an appropriate link. The example below shows people view 2.65 pages before finding the right link. How many pages to you sort through on Google or Bing before you get frustrated? This report also tells you that 30% of people exit after searching and 9% refine their searches. A search refinement is when someone does a second search from the search page, as you tested when discovering your search parameters.

This data below shows that visitors might not be having a good experience with the search functionality. To see where the problem lies, look at what search terms visitors used on your site by clicking on “which search terms did visitors use” on the right of this page.


When you get to the report on individual search terms, you can see that some search terms seem to give more successful results than others. Item 4 in the list below has only a 7% search exit rate, while item #5 has a 67% search exit rate. Look at the search results for keywords like item 5 and try to figure out what they were looking for. This might be a case where people are searching for “buy a brick” and your page only refers to the program in other terms. Just adding a sentence with the words “buy a brick” to your program page could make those search results instantly more relevant.

Also pay attention to items like search term #1. What might those visitors be looking for and finding on page 4 or 5? If you use Google’s enterprise search tool, you can manually adjust results for your most popular keywords. If not, try guessing at what pages would be relevant and adding the keyword to that page and perhaps even page title.

Yes, that’s a lot of work, but doing that for the top 10 search terms with poor results might create enough benefit to be worthwhile, especially if some of the failed searches are around donation programs

Post a reply if you have seen anything interested through looking at your website’s site search data! I’ll be back next month with more exciting tips on Google Analytics!


Alissa Ruehl has been using Google Analytics since the first weeks it came out as a Google product. Through consulting, webinars, and conferences, she has helped hundreds of people at a variety of organizations and companies navigate Google Analytics and use it to refine their online marketing and website effectiveness. She currently uses her analysis skills as a senior user researcher on the Blackbaud products side, but she loves re-immersing herself the world of website analytics for her monthly Google Analytics blog posts. The only thing Alissa likes talking about more than data is food, but that’s a whole other blog.

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