4 Ways To Analyse On-Site Search With Google Analytics

07 Apr

Site search is an extremely important, yet often ignored, aspect of online searching. As a retailer, you always know what products you have available, and how they are organised on your store. However, your customers don’t.

Consumers come to your store for various reasons. Some just want to learn more about your business, some want to browse around and ‘window shop’ online, and some are there specifically to buy a certain product. For that last group of people, your on-site search is the fastest way to find what they need.

That means the search feature on your eCommerce store gives us some interesting insights into your customers thought processes. By analysing searches on your store, you can:

1. Understand your visitors’ intent.
2. Optimise your landing pages and navigation.
3. Improve your visitors’ experience.
4. Increase your conversion rates.

To start with, you’re going to need to figure out how to collect data from your on-site search. Fortunately, most site search features are automatically tracked by Google Analytics. If you don’t have Google Analytics set up on your site, go do that first.

In Google Analytics, you should see the Site Search report under Behaviour. Let’s take a look at some important questions you should ask yourself and where you can get the answers in Google Analytics.


Where did your visitors start to search?

Your visitors may not always start their search on the home page. They might navigate your site for a while searching for a product, before giving up and relying on search. Finding out what people search for from the various pages on your site will give you some interesting insights.

Start by pulling up the Search Terms from your Site Search report. You want to sort these terms by page, so select Start Page from the secondary dimensions dropdown.

Behaviour -> Site Search -> Search Terms -> Secondary dimension -> Start Page

If you find a large volume of searches on specific start pages, it means that people are heading to those pages and not finding the information they want. The search queries tell you what people are looking for on these pages.

Of course, you might find that your homepage has a high number of searches, but you can ignore that because those are searches by people who know what they want.

On the other hand, if people are initiating searches from your conversion funnel, like your checkout page, then you know something is wrong. They went all the way to the checkout and still don’t have the information they need. if you don’t address those queries, they’ll abandon their carts.

For example, some shops have searches like: delivery options, shipping costs, and payment methods.Customers want this information before they pull out their credit cards, and so they’re searching for them. This implies that things need be clearer and not just put away in a hidden ‘Terms of Sale’.


Did your visitors find what they were searching for?

It’s important to know if your search actually throws up relevant answers. The last thing you want is for your visitors to see a ‘Not Found’ on your website. That will just make them leave.

To figure this out, we need to look at the percentage of Search Exits. This metric is the search equivalent of Bounce Rate. It tells you how many people left your site after performing a search, which in turns tells you if the search was useful.

A percentage close to 100% means that your visitors are not finding what they are searching for.

In your report, sort by % Search Exits and then select the comparison view. You’ll see a graph with green and red bars. The middle line represents site average value for a selected metric, and the bars show the variance.

Look out for any red bars. That means these terms are causing an above average exit from your site, so they need to be addressed first.


Did your visitors refine their site search?

If your visitors don’t find your search results helpful, they’ll do one of two things. The most likely is that they’ll leave in frustration. The more patient ones will refine their search and try again.

For those who refine their search terms, we want to figure out why they entered an incorrect search term in the first place. A couple of important metrics to help us figure this out are:

Average Search Depth – the average number of pages people viewed after running a search. An average search depth higher than 2 often means people don’t find what they want from the first search.

% Search Refinements – the percentage of searches that resulted in another search (with a new keyword).

Now let’s see how can we analyse the refined search keywords. You’ll need to start by creating a custom report with 3 dimensions- Start Page, Search Term and Refined Keyword.

The report will show you which pages lead to a search, what people searched for, and what they changed their search term to after they didn’t find what they were looking for.

It’s interesting to see what specific words people use when searching for products. For example, you might find your visitors searching for a camcorder on your store and not finding any because you’ve named them video recorders. Different people use different words to describe the same thing, so they aren’t necessarily going to use the same ones you have. To avoid this confusion train your search functionality to throw up results for synonyms of queries.

Besides synonyms you can also look for misspellings, slang, abbreviations, plurals, and apostrophes. The search features on older eCommerce platforms aren’t advanced enough to catch these, so you’ll have to manually fix them yourself.

It’s impossible to account for every misspelling, so you can add a message in the search results page like: Did you mean to search for <correct spelling>?


Did your visitors complete any goals or transactions?

Ultimately, you want people to buy something, so the searches who convert are important.

In Google Analytics, you can find out how much revenue each query generates, and what their conversion rates are. To do this, you’ll first need to set up eCommerce goals in Google Analytics.

After setting up your goals, head back to your Search Terms report and select the appropriate goal to analyse the efficiency of your on-site searches.

Focus on the search terms with the lowest conversion rates. The ones that don’t convert aren’t returning relevant results so you’ll have to fix them manually.


Now put this data to use

Analyzing your search is a quick and easy way to understand what your customers are thinking as they browse your store. Use the data you get out of the search reports to improve your visitors’ shopping experience.

Don’t be afraid to change the content on your site, adding in things that people are looking for, and removing what they don’t care about. For extremely common search strings, make sure they are really easy to find on your site by highlighting them on your homepage or in your navigation.

If you see a lot of data showing in the search query reports, don’t panic. It might look overwhelming and I know that many companies don’t have the resources to fix everything. Just start by addressing the top 10 search queries. Even a few small changes can lead to significant increases in conversion rates and sales.

Here is a video by Google Analytics with a funny site search simulation in the real world.


Learn more interesting things from your site search reports and other useful information on how to turn data into profit by joining our next Google Analytics course.



There is certainly a lot to find out about this issue. I really like all of the points you made.


Site search is an extremely important, yet often ignored, aspect of online searching.

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