By Claire Whitehair

Understanding what your customers want is imperative to growing your business and reaching your goals and targets. We can obviously understand what they are initially searching for through the keywords that we bid on. But what are they looking for when they get to the site?

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Initial ideas

  • Your website layout should be easy to navigate with main product lines or services in an easy to reach location from your landing pages.
  • But what if they're not? How do you know what people are actually trying to find? Well, the site search on your homepage has all the answers….
  • Spotting particular pages on which searches are initiated and spotting searches with a high percentage of search refinements can be key signs for areas that need attention.
  • Finding search terms that don't perform well can help you to improve your search engine functionality or spot popular products/services with which to improve or expand your business.

Setting this up can also be really simple...

  1. Try to make a search on the site you're setting this up for.
  2. The url should change to something similar to this: www.example.com/search_results.php?search_text=xyz
  3. The important part here is "search_text=...", this is the query parameter which will make setting this up a lot easier!
  4. Simply go to the correct view within the admin tab in analytics > view settings > site search
  5. You should then be presented with a page similar to the one below.
  6. Switch on site search and enter your query parameter in the box shown.

In addition to the above, it's generally advisable to strip query parameters in your main view as it cleans up the site content report.

The check box above will only strip the parameters that you have specified here. The main benefit of this feature is to remove duplicates so that it is easier to report on the search results page; the duplicates here are generated by the changing parameter.

If your site uses categories to follow the search, the same principles apply to this too.

But what if your site doesn't provide a Query Parameter?

You can get around this if that's the case - it depends whether you have Classic or Universal Analytics (alterations only need to be made on site search pages).

For Universal Analytics….

UA is the platform for GA code now so if you are up to date this will be the section for you. Within your GA site code you will find:

ga('send', 'pageview');

Which you will have to change to include the search term (stored in the variable 'search_keyword'):

ga('send', 'pageview', '/searchlandingpage?search_text='+ search_keyword);

Now all you need to do is go back to the GA interface and insert the query parameter.

For Classic Analytics….

Virtual Pageviews can be implemented in this situation to allow analytics to track these searches by appending the query parameter to each search. This can be done by adding the virtual page view name directly into the _trackPageview function.

So, if your search bar's landing page is something like:

www.example.com/searchlandingpage

Then you need to change the code on the search results page from:

_gaq.push(['_trackPageview']);

To include the search term (stored in the example variable 'search_keyword'):

_gaq.push(['_trackPageview', '/searchlandingpage?search_text='+ search_keyword]);

This method will also allow you to see how the search results page is performing and which search terms are causing users to either leave the site or conversely going on to engage well with your site.

Now all you need to do is go back to the GA interface and insert the query parameter!

What next?

Now that you have the data coming though it will be important to monitor the searches coming through regularly.

This can give you ideas for new Ad Groups that haven't yet been implemented; there may be new popular product lines that you can spot here too and feed back to your client.

Spotting similar themes here can also highlight issues with site navigation which you can flag up as something to your client to improve website navigation.

If you realise that searches are initiated on certain pages more so than on others, this could be an issue with the content or messaging on those pages. Keeping track of this in conjunction with other GA metrics like bounce rate of webpages can really enhance your campaigns.

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