Are Your Visitors Lost?

When you added a search box to your website, you no doubt hoped it would help visitors find exactly what they’re looking for. As a side benefit, you probably discovered that doing analytics on your site search revealed what your searchers want to read. But there’s another way to look at your site search analytics that could help both you and your visitors.

I first discussed mining the results of your site’s search engine for possible keywords late last month. In that article, I mentioned that keywords entered into your site’s search engine can tell you what areas of content you might want to consider adding to your site. Clearly, if someone is searching for certain information on your site, they want and expect to find it there. Give your visitors what they want, and they’ll stick around for a while. They may even come back for more.

While you’re using your site search analytics to discover new keywords, however, you need to keep your eyes open to certain other patterns that might manifest in the searches. Mike Fleming notes that they’ll tell you what users are looking for, all right, and it isn’t always content in the usual sense. It could be that certain parts of your website are simply hard to find.

As an example, he points to some pattern analysis he did on the search terms being used on a medical-related website. He discovered that one of the most common queries was “enter your search term here.” Apparently a lot of visitors were clicking on the search box without entering a search term. Why would they do that?

Looking at the rest of the terms used, there seems to be a good reason for that. It appears the site might be tricky to navigate. Three of the top 25 searches were some form of “log in,” which could indicate that users are having trouble finding the login prompt. Another couple of the top 25 search terms are variations on “system requirements.” That seems to indicate that this site offers some kind of software but makes it difficult to find what systems it runs on – which could lead to lost sales.

Another couple of top search terms were “ipad” and “mobile.” This could mean that users were looking for apps for their devices, and not finding them. This raises two questions: first, are there mobile apps on the website for users to find? And if so, why aren’t they just navigating to them?

You may be wondering how this fits into doing keyword research. Well, if you’re dealing with site structure issues, it still relates back to keywords; the two feed each other. When you divide your website into categories and subcategories to make it easier for visitors to find your offerings, you’re (ideally) thinking in terms of keywords. That’s how a visitor will approach your site. Getting these kinds of searches lets you know that you need to think even more like a visitor to make them happy.

Whether you’re looking at your site search analytics to discover new areas to expand your website into, or digging into other issues, the key is to look for patterns. These patterns, Fleming notes, “will give insight into what’s going on with your visitors.” This is where you start asking questions to find out why searchers are using the keywords they are.

So how do you do this for your own site? Well, there are a number of ways you can group the searches on your site to see what patterns emerge. You might start with synonyms. “Grouping synonyms allows you to see how popular different subjects are with your visitors and the kinds of words they use to find what they’re looking for,” Fleming explains. You might also examine the search terms to see what kind of questions they’re trying to ask (such as “Where is the login prompt?” when you get variations of a search for “login”). You can also take the reverse approach and consider what kind of content they want to find given their queries (such as mobile apps when they search for “ipad” and “mobile”).

You might also look at the language used in your site search box and see how it matches the language of your website. Do you use a lot of field-specific jargon when your visitors search using more general terms – or vice versa? Such information can inspire a rethinking of your target audience and a possible rewriting of at least some of  your content.

Depending on your website’s niche and approach to it, you may find other kinds of patterns worth thinking about. You might see something immediately that fits into the patterns I’ve mentioned here, or you might need to juggle the data a little bit to see what it’s trying to tell you. “After you’ve established patterns and have identified the questions they spark, it’s time to seek out those in your organization that can answer the questions about visitor intent thoroughly.” With those answers in hand, you can adapt your website to make it better serve your visitors – and improve your bottom line. Good luck!

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