How to Use Internal Search to Track Users and Improve Site Content

When you think about all the elements on your site that contribute to a content-first strategy, does internal site search spring to mind? Probably not. After all, search bars are there to improve your visitors’ experience as they try to find what they need while navigating around your site. How could it have any effect on your content?

For some websites, internal search won’t make sense. When websites have less than ten pages or only have a singular focus (a singular service provided, for instance), then there’s no point in cluttering up your design with one more element to distract visitors from reaching their goal.

For other websites, however, internal search is a must. If your site is larger in size or if it sells tens, hundreds, or even thousands of products, then this article is for you. Without an internal site search component, the logistics of site navigation could easily turn into a nightmare for your visitors. That’s why I want to discuss how to get an internal site search bar up on your site and then show you how and why it plays an important role in your content-first web strategy.

Analyzing Internal WordPress Site Search Results

An internal search bar isn’t just about giving visitors a more convenient way to get around your site. Think of yourself like you do the minds behind Google. You know they’re not just kicking back, letting billions of people roam around the web with nothing in it for them. Where do you think all these changes in their search algorithms come from?

With internal search set up for your WordPress site, it’s time to put this powerful tool to good use. In addition to learning more about what your visitors are doing with it (since WordPress won’t tell you), you’ll gain better insights into what you can do with your content to improve their on-site experience.

Google Analytics is the tool that’ll help you accomplish this:

1. Log into Google Analytics

2. Click on Admin at the bottom of your sidebar.

3. Under the third column, click on View Settings.

4. Scroll to the bottom of this page and you’ll find the option to turn on Site Search Tracking.

For information on how to update the search and categories parameters, check out Google’s guide.

5. You can then find your internal site search analytics beneath the Behavior > Site Search tab back in Google Analytics.

From this tab, you’ll find a whole host of information, including:

Overview

Information on this page presents a high-level overview of visitor engagement information:

  • Percent of visitors that used search
  • Number of pages viewed after search
  • Number of visitors that exited after search
  • Time spent on site after search
  • Pages that search was conducted from

Usage

There isn’t a lot on this page aside from information on how many people visited your site without conducting a search. But even with the limited information here, you can set different conversion goals to determine if site search is hindering or helping the conversion process.

Search Terms

Curious to know which search terms visitors use the most? Want to know which of those terms actually result in forward movement and conversions on your site? This is the tab for that.

Search Pages

This tab is for when you want to drill down into the nitty-gritty of your site’s pages and posts. You can figure out which sites most commonly lead visitors to do a search, which could, in turn, tell you a lot about your site’s content. Is it confusing? Are people getting lost and not finding what they want? Or maybe it’s inspiring them to look further? I’ll talk more about that next.

What to Do with These Results to Support Your Content-First Strategy

Okay, now it’s time to tie this all into your content-first strategy.

Ultimately, your goal in activating site search and studying the results from Analytics is to get a better idea of what’s going on in the minds of your visitors. You can then tailor your content based on their search queries and results.

Here is what you can do once you have a good set of data (about a month, at least) to work with from internal search and Google Analytics.

#1. Test It for Yourself

Before you move on to any of the questions or suggestions below, I’d recommend you test your site’s internal search for yourself first. If you’re seeing negative or absolutely no results in Analytics from search, don’t waste your time trying to figure out the underlying issues if you haven’t given this a try. You never know; the issue may not lie in your content. It could just be that the search bar isn’t working properly.

#2. Revisit Your Navigation

If your visitors are searching for something that has an entire page or section dedicated to it, but that they’re more often finding in search instead of through your navigation, that could be a sign that there’s something amiss with your menus. Really, if there are enough people searching for this specific page, there’s no sense in making them do a search to then sift through a bunch of unrelated results. Popular pages belong front and center in your navigation.

#3. Revisit Your SEO

If what you’re finding is that internal search results drive people to pages they’re not interested in (indicated by high bounce rates and brief times on site), then there may be an issue with your SEO. When pages and posts aren’t properly optimized, you could be sending the wrong signals to people who find your site through external search engines or referrals. Internal search result performance is just one piece of the data puzzle that will tell you this.

#4. Revisit Your Keywords

Let’s say you run an online clothing store, but sales just aren’t what you want them to be. Take a look at the internal search query results. If visitors search for the term “baby clothes” most often, but you’ve written everything around “infant onesies” or “toddler clothing,” that may explain the lack of positive search results and conversions. This one’s an easy enough fix: simply revamp your keywording to align with the words your visitors prefer.

#5. Revisit Your Content

There are other reasons why visitors may do a search and then bounce off your site right away—and it may be due to your content. Unlike with the SEO issues above that can be corroborated based on other performance indicators in Google Analytics, this one may be tougher to figure out unless you have a heat mapping tool or regularly survey visitors about their on-site experience.

Nevertheless, this is still a point worth reviewing to ensure that problematic areas in your content aren’t the reason for negative visitor reactions post-search. When revisiting your content, think about the following:

  • Are you being consistent in how your content is presented?
  • Is your content littered with misspellings and poor grammar?
  • Does the voice you’ve written in sound professional and reflective of the company, services, or products you offer?
  • Is your content too long?
  • Are you not creating content around the right types of subject matter?

Obviously, if people show up and their immediate response is to bounce, there is something up front that doesn’t sit well with them. However, if they show up to a page, but bail a couple minutes into it, that may be a good tip-off that there’s something within the content that’s turning them off.

Revisit Your Tags

As you can see from many of the WordPress plugins recommended above, the ability to break content down into a number of filters can lead to a more convenient search experience for visitors. However, if you’re finding that certain filters or categories aren’t being used or are being used with poor results, there may be something wrong with your classification system.

Take a look at how your content is tagged and categorized. Then compare it with the types of search terms and filters your visitors actually use. There’s no need to overcomplicate things here. Just use the filters that make the most sense and that best reflect how your content can naturally be broken down.

Wrapping Up

Once you have an idea of how much you want to control with internal site search or how much you want to allow visitors to do with it, find the right approach to getting it on your site. But remember that this isn’t a one-and-done kind of thing. It’s important to keep an eye on the analytics, too.

Site search might seem like an insignificant detail, but I assure you it’s not. A negative site search experience could cost you just as many conversions as it earns you, so keep an eye on how your visitors respond it. Once you know that it’s working and that it’s improving their experience, you can then get to work on using those search query insults to better refine your content.

Brenda Barron
Over to you: Does your site currently have a search bar and do you find that visitors are more likely to convert after using it?