Using Your Internal Search Data to Determine Usability and Content Issues

Internal search is incredibly underused in school’s web analytics. It gives you a great insight into user intent, which you cannot get from the standard clickstream metrics. Not only do you get a good understanding of visitor intent, but the results are easily actionable.

If a user cannot quickly and easily navigate to the content that they are looking for on your site, then they will either leave or begin a search (either on your site or on a search engine). Your website should provide a search feature on your website - even if you have the most user friendly architecture. With the standard clickstream metrics, you get to understand what pages people views, where they left and how long they stayed. The only thing you do not get is intent - what did they really want from the website? Fortunately, site search can give you this intent. The visitor gives you, in their own words, what they want from your site. 

Your website will not please everybody, that is inevitable. There will be visitors who arrive looking for content that simply does not exist. If the content doesn’t exist then you want to know what they were looking for. Two reasons for this are:

  • Your bounce rate will increase and you want to know why
  • You have to know what content your audience want to read

The first point is essential to know because we, as marketers, have a hard enough job trying to understand user behaviour. We obviously make a lot of educated guesses but the more data and facts we have the more accurate our decisions can be. There are a huge number of reasons why a user may bounce. When we know that a high percentage of people are looking for a certain page that does not exist, then we can begin to attribute some of that to the bouncing visitors.

Obviously, if a high percentage of your audience are intending to view content that does not exist then something needs to be done! You look into how to create that piece of content to best meet your audience’s needs. Actionable insight.

How many searches should my school website have?

It depends on what strategy your school website is employing. We find that school websites tend to have less than 2% of visits that include a search. But this is just a general rule of thumb.  Usually, fees and vacancies are the two most search for terms that are generic to all schools. Often, there will be search terms specific to your school - film club, spanish exchange 2013, ski trip etc.

Search is becoming more popular on the web as we become trained to use search often. Amazon and Google have pioneered this approach of giving us a huge search bar to use immediately. People are getting used to ignoring navigational elements and site search is becoming a core navigational method.

Optimising your search

Look at search refinements and search depth to determine how effective and well your internal search is performing. Tweak the internal search engine to improve results. You can also view how many pages the visitor views in the search results. We all expect to find the correct, relevant result at the top of the first page.

Take a look at your bounce rate? What’s the percentage of searches? If bounce is high and search is low then you should look at making your search more clearer and inviting. Of course, a user may bounce for reasons irrespective of content but you have to encourage people to stick to your site.

Has your website got an internal search engine? Do you run analytical reports on the data? Let us know in the comments.