In Pursuit of Information
Whenever we conduct a website audit, site search is an item near the top of our list. If you don’t have this functionality on your site, hopefully this post will sway you. I’ll share some best practices in setting one up and how to make sure you glean useful user experience data from it. I’ll also mention two plugins that I regularly use on our clients’ WordPress websites.
Why Site Search is a Must Have Function
Ultimately you want to remove any barriers between what you offer and your potential prospect’s needs. Hopefully your main navigation is laid out in a logical way and that it makes sense to your visitors. But what if they don’t know exactly where to find the answer to their burning question? Or they’ve been on your site before and want to return to a specific topic?
How we browse for information has dramatically changed. We’re used to using search engines to find information quickly. And we’re getting even better with our search queries (called keywords). Did you know that 20% of all Google search queries are “new” every day? Here’s an excerpt from Google AdWords help:
…roughly 20 percent of the searches Google receives each day are ones we haven’t seen in at least 90 days. This unpredictable search behavior can make it nearly impossible for you to create a keyword list using only exact match that covers all possible relevant searches.
So why is this AdWords advice applicable to your website? Because our search behaviors don’t stop just because we’ve landed on a website. If a visitor is inclined to search deep into the information you provide, make it easy for them. And where your visitor spends time on your site provides valuable intel via Analytics. And, because new search queries pop up every day, we can’t optimize our content for every conceivable permutation.
This is probably a good time to explain the three different type of user queries we see on the Web:
- Navigational – when looking for a particular page either because they’ve visited a site previously or assume that one exists. A pricing page is a prime example. We also see brand name searches in this category.
- Informational – when searching for a piece of information. The goal is to find content on a broad topic where there may be thousands of search results. Searchers may not be looking for a specific brand; rather they are looking for content that answers their question.
- Transactional – is the most varied type of search behavior and it really depends upon search intent (e.g., product or service purchase).
Site search — the act of searching within your website — can help your visitor regardless of query type. And don’t forget about how searchers use their mobile devices as it’s now a major factor for Google.
Site Search and a WP Plugin
We use Google Custom Search on our site. It’s a custom-coded plugin, one that uses Google’s search algorithm and returns results in a familiar format. There is a free option with Google Search that contains ads. We opted for the paid version. At only $100 a year (covers 20,000 search queries/year), I can adjust my search box design, remove competitor ads from search results, etc. A colleague who does advanced WordPress coding swears by Search WP. It too is a premium plugin, meaning you pay annually for licensing rights. These are my top two picks over using the native WordPress site search option. You may want to read Search Engine Journal’s recent post citing their preferences. When researching solutions for your website, I recommend using the WordPress plugin repository and pay particular attention to star ratings, reviews, WP version capability, screenshots, and when it was last updated. You want to find a quality developer achieving good results by using best practices.
Setting Up Site Search In Analytics & Reviewing Data
Now that you’ve installed site search on your WordPress site, let’s talk about collecting the data. In the past this was more complicated than it is today, now if you want to see what users are searching for on your website, you simply need to log in to your Google Analytics account, navigate down the left-hand menu to Behaviour then Site Search. Once you’ve done that you’ll see all the data relating to your own on-site search engine.
The “Search Terms” report will show you what people are searching for once they land on your site. When items are searched consistently, it’s usually an indication that you need to make that content more visible on the site. The “Pages” report will show you what pages the visitor was on when they performed the search. Once there you can look at trends to find out what content is missing from your site, or which pages users are having trouble finding.
As you can see site search is a fundamental and integral part of fine-tuning your website’s user experience. Placement of your site search box is also important. Don’t bury it in your footer. We’ve found good results when it’s placed in the header area or at the top of a sidebar. It all depends on your design and how content is arranged. You may want to test your site search placement, using a heatmap tool or looking at Google’s In-Page Analytics. Just make sure it’s on EVERY page.
What does your site search say about your website experience?
How can we help?
Are you using Google Analytics to measure your website’s user experience? Want to set-up heatmaps to what’s see what’s hot or not?
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