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Bonus Google Analytics Site Search Tips

by Tim Leighton-Boyce

Illustration: people completing a jigsawIn the first two parts of this series I explained why on-site search is such a powerful tool for learning about the intentions of your visitors, and showed how you can use Google Analytics Site Search Reports to learn about your market and improve customer experience.

Now I’m going to wrap up the series with a couple of extra tips.

I’ll point out a short cut which will give you quick insight into site search information wherever you are in GA. Then I’ll show you where you can see in one glance the path which led someone to search, without using Path Analysis reports. Finally, there’s a list of links to further sources of information on site search.

Series Navigation Links

  1. Start: Why Site Search is So Important
  2. Previous Post: How To Use Site Search Reports in Google Analytics
  3. This Post: Extras

I recommend that you configure your search results page as a url-based goal in GA. Goal details are available almost everywhere within Google Analytics, so this means that you can quickly see the level of use of search wherever you happen to be.

More to the point, GA will automatically calculate a figure which allows you to compare the likelihood of different pages, sources of visits or whatever, to being involved in a ‘visit with search” — the conversion rate for your goal. So you can easily get an idea of the relative performance of those pages in terms of site search. This is a case where a lower conversion rate is good.

An example which might give you an idea of how useful this is would be to consider the ‘All Traffic Sources’ report. Being able to see the percentage of people who use search (the goal conversion rate) could be extremely useful. By doing this you could spot sources of traffic which seem to result in more on-site searches or where the rate of use of search suddenly changes. You can then ask why those people are more likely to use search and do something about it.

It’s true that you could get a similar effect using a Custom Segment based on ‘Site Search Status’ matching ‘Visits With Site Search’ (watch out, it’s case sensitive). But I favour using a micro-conversion goal because it brings all the other benefits of Google Analytics Goals reporting.

Tip: Use the Google Analytics Reverse Goal Path Report to Fix Navigation

Using a goal for the search results page also allows you to use one of the specialist goals reports: the ‘Reverse Goal Path’ report. This report will show you the three pages which were viewed prior to the search results page. One of those you already know about: the page before the search results page is the ‘start page’ shown in all the dedicated site search reports. But using this report you can see the two pages before that. This can be very useful information for getting an idea of the last stages in the trail of frustration which led to the search.

Screengrab Google Analytics v5 Reverse Goal Path

For example you may see high use of the same sequence of ‘Some Particular Category Page’, ‘Another Particular Category Page’, ‘A Third Particular Category Page’ (where the visitor gave up and entered a search term’ and then ‘Search Result Page’. This gives you real detail on how confusing your navigation is.

This would be a great example where putting the extra link on ‘Category Page 1’ would be a much better fix than adding the link to the search start page (‘Category Page 1’). The Reverse Goal path gives you strong evidence to think that the visitor was trying to find that product on those earlier pages and that the first category page was where they expected it to be. If you see high numbers of people following that particular path, you now know where to move the product or add an extra link.

Reverse Goal Path from V4 of Google AnalyticsThis kind of analysis can eat up a lot of time, so be careful. But it is much more efficient than standard path analysis. In the previous version of GA there was even a nice bar graph ‘performance’ view to show you whether any particular path was really prominent. Right now you have to eyeball the numbers or export the data and work with it in Excel. Eyeballing it should be fine here: you only need a rough idea of what matters and what doesn’t.

I’ll close by repeating the sanity check: you DO need to make that judgement yourself on what matters and what doesn’t. Beware making a change which benefits a few but makes the site worse for most users. But provided you stop and think before making the final changes, the Site Search Reports are one of the most powerful secret tools in the Google Analytics toolbox.

Here Are the Series Navigation Links Again

  1. Start: Why Site Search is So Important
  2. Previous Post: How To Use Site Search Reports in Google Analytics
  3. This Post: Extras

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Fridtjof May 31, 2012 at 12:58 pm

Hi Tim!
Great article!
How do i configure site search as a goal?

Thanks a lot,

Tim Leighton-Boyce May 31, 2012 at 2:18 pm

@Fridtjof You need to work out what the URI of your search results page is. The easiest way of doing this is to do a search on the site and note the URI. For example, if I search for ‘goal’ on this site, the results page is so the search results page is /?s={whatever-the-search-term-was}. On other sites it might be something like /searchresults/ or all manner of other things.

I recommend confirming that you have the correct URI by searching for it within your GA>Site Content>All Pages report so that you can be sure that it’s being tracked as you would expect in GA.

Instructions for setting up the goal within GA can be found here:

I hope this helps.

Robert November 30, 2012 at 12:26 pm

Hello Tim, thank you for the your whole series on site search. I have turned it on for our site. Still waiting for the results to appear. Will GA show past results or only those starting from the day I enabled site search?

Tim Leighton-Boyce November 30, 2012 at 2:07 pm

Good question. I don’t really know the answer. My hunch is that it will only apply from the moment you made the configuration change, like a profile filter.

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