Value of Site Search for Customer Experience Analytics

Getting site search analytics right will help marketers plan successful customer experience strategies.

Google Analytics (GA) may be introducing a lot of changes to the analytics workflow with GA4, but one kind of workflow that marketers can steadily rely upon is site search. I covered the site search feature in Google Analytics back in 2015. Site search remains one of the most valuable analyses for marketers who are responsible for a wide portfolio of products and services.

A Query by Any Other Name 

Site search is when a customer types or speaks a query for the text box at the top of the page. The query returns a set of pages from within the site relevant to the query. The pages can be product pages, a Q&A page that answers some frequently asked questions or content that explains a step in a process, like a registration.

Site search is part of a customer experience that marketing teams sometimes overlook — marketers often worry about gaining customer attention through ads, videos and white papers, mainly because they are immediately visible to an advertising campaign. But site search unveils content that is not immediately seen when the customer is on site or on an app. Thus, it provides a continuance of the customer journey. Plus, people are familiar with that magnifying glass icon and the concept of searching online. Just one mention of Amazon as a search engine of products, and the value is clear.

The cost of ignoring it is becoming even clearer. At SMX, William Tseng, director of sales engineering at Lucidworks, noted in his presentation concerning site search that 30% of website visitors use site search, and 55% of those who search leave the site if they cannot find what they were searching for.

Site search has been a standard report among analytic solutions since the inception of analytics. For example, Adobe Analytics has a site search analysis report. So does Matomo, an analytics solution formerly known as Piwik. Site search is an expected feature in analytic solutions, much like a steering wheel is expected in a vehicle, be it a sports car or SUV.

But just as car features change with vehicle redesigns, a few alterations in site search among analytic solutions have appeared. Many analytics solutions have renamed site search reports as internal search reports to better reflect the use of analytics in apps as well as websites.

With the arrival of GA4, a few steps in setting up the site search reporting feature has changed. But with some attention to the steps, marketers can ensure that this standard reporting is not lost with the new version. 

Related Article: Leveraging Google Data Studio as the GA4 Transition Looms

You Start With Your Query

To add the search site reporting in GA4, you need to first locate your site’s query parameter. Every site has the same search term structure, so this is a standard step in every analytics solution. The parameter must be indicated in the site search setting for the analytics solution to “see” the query result page as part of a query, as opposed to treating the page as just another site or app page being accessed.

In Google Analytics, you go to the site search text window on your website, type a term, then look at the URL on the page. A query result appears in the URL window with additional characters. 

The characters appear in the following format: the URL, along with a question mark, a random letter, and an equal sign. The letter before the equal sign (“=”) is your website’s query parameter. So, a URL will look like this:

In Universal Analytics (UA) users had to input some information into GA manually — click a “Site Search Settings” button on the admin page — in GA4 it is a similar check process, save for an added step. The Enhanced Measurement must be selected before the site search is activated. (I explain Enhanced Measurement in this previous CMSWire post). Enhanced Measurement is accessed through the administration page under the Data Stream section. 

Once the Enhanced Measurement is activated, users can click on the site search button. Click show advanced settings to add one of five types of parameters — q, s, search, query and keyword. There is a text box for additional parameters.

Related Article: New Google Analytics Metrics Improve How Marketers Learn About Customer Experience 

How the Results Look in an Analysis

The results in GA4 appear in a slightly different format from those within Universal Analytics. UA provided an overview site search report that showed the overall metrics, plus three specific analyses — Usage, Search Terms and Page, which reveal the pages in which the search was conducted.

GA4 instead treats the results as an event-triggered dimension, called the search term dimension. The search term dimension allows the dimension to be added to several reports in the Explore report format, and then is analyzed. Think of it as metrics that are added to a report, rather than the three detailed reports in UA, and you’ll get the general idea.

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