If you’re like most businesses you have a little search box in the top right of your website. And if you’re like most businesses you are missing out on one of the best survey tools that you have on your website by not paying attention to it. I want you to change your thinking right now!

What if I told you that your search bar could tell you exactly what questions your potential customers wished you answered? What if I said that your search bar was actually a barometer that informed you if your web design was worked or not? What if I told you that your search bar is a little like Mel Gibson in the 2000 film What Women Want and could hear the thoughts that are in your visitor’s minds, but never asked out loud? It would change the way you thought of that little search bar wouldn’t it!

We’ll get to the how in a moment, but let’s consider why people use the search bar in the first place.

Why do people use search?

People primarily come to your website because they are looking for the answer to a question. Often the question is about your pricing, your products and services, “how to…” style questions, or your viewpoint but it can be for lots of other reasons as well. You know this because they are the same reasons you visit anyone else’s website. When people arrive at your website they quickly skim your homepage (or the page they arrived on) and look at the menu/navigation bar and go in search of the answer they need.

People these days are fickle beasts, and you have a matter of seconds (less than ten, and often quoted as three) to help them answer their question, or at least give them the confidence that by clicking on a specific link they’ll get one step closer. Generally, if someone can’t find the answer to their question within a few clicks they will either a) use the search bar or b) go to someone else’s website.

Therefore, whatever they type into your search bar is absolute GOLD. It’s the one question that they wanted an answer to, and it’s only one step away from them leaving your site and heading for your competition.

You have a matter of seconds… to help them answer their question.

What can you learn from your search data?

In short, your search data tells you that there was too much friction between your visitor’s question and answer. Quite simply, by removing this friction (by adding content or making it easier to find) you will answer your visitor’s needs. Left unresolved, the chances of them buying from you is pretty darn slim.

Search data can tell you:

  • If your website is missing important content. Maybe you run a marine mechanics, and at the top of your search data are the words “service outboard motor”. I would instantly put up a page that described exactly what owner servicable parts there were, how to service your own outboard motor, your pricing, and some links of where to go for more information. Remember, if they can’t find the answer to their question on your website, they will go elsewhere.
  • If your main navigation/menu is logical and effective. If the search words were “service outboard motor” and you indeed had one or more pages on this topic then it suggests that people just can’t find the information on your website and they’re getting lost. Make your content easier to access.
  • Are there patterns to the search data? Maybe you realise that certain days of the week, or even times of the day are experiencing higher search activity than others. Roster a staff member to man the phone and put something on the website saying that between 4-6pm there’s someone waiting to answer their questions by calling this number!
  • Are the most common searches showing you the data that you’d expect to see? Do your search results surprise you? Maybe people are searching “deep sea fishing” and you are nowhere near the coast! Whatever the surprise it’s important to unpack the why and then do something about it.

How to get search data?

Assuming that you are running a wordpress based website the process is really simple.

  1. Log into your Google Analytics account –  www.google.com.au/analytics/
  2. Click on Admin at the top of your screen.
  3. Ensure your Account, Property and All Web Site Data are correctly selected.
  4. Click on View Settings under the View column.
  5. Scroll down until you see your Site Search Settings.
  6. Turn Site Tracking On.RBT Google Analytics Site Search Settings
  7. Add the appropriate query parameter. If you’re using WordPress the parameter will likely be “s”, and strip the query data out of the URL.
  8. Add categories if warranted. If you’re using WordPress the parameter will likely be “cat”, and strip the query data out of the URL. If you had an online store (or another website with high use of categories) your category data might show you that more people were searching for “safety products” (like life jackets, flares and first aid kits) more often than “accessories” (like anchors, ropes and fishing rod holders).
  9. Press save. You may need to wait a day or two for Google Analytics to start aggregating you data so come back and check in at the end of the week.

Note, how do you find our what your search parameter is? It’s actually super simple. Go to your website and use your search bar. If I search for “halloween” on Regional Business Toolkit the URL becomes https://www.regionalbusinesstoolkit.com.au//?s=halloween. You will see ?s= just prior to the search term. This means that my search parameter is “s”. Also, when Google Analytics is told to “strip query parameters out of URL”  it means it will only list halloween in the search results, instead of www.regionalbusinesstoolkit.com/ etc, etc.

What now?

Now that you know what your visitors are struggling with it’s up to you to do something about it.

Let me know in the comments below what surprised you the most looking at your search data, and in what ways you’ve used it to help your visitors.