the importance of tracking site search in google analytics

How many times have you used a website’s site search functionality? I, for one, don’t like to waste time trying to navigate throughout a website attempting to find what I am searching for; it’s so much faster to simply type my query into the site search box (if available). Now pause a moment and really think about how many people engage in this behavior on a daily basis, including yourself.

If you think the numbers are low and don’t care to read further, you may be missing out on a critical aspect of significantly improving PPC performance and overall website usability.

3 Reasons Why You Need to Track Internal Site Search

1. Website Usability

Factors such as landing page a/b testing aside, analysis of your website’s usability and navigation is probably the primary reason why you need to track internal site search. Tracking your site’s search functionality can help answer the following questions:

  • Are site visitors using my site’s navigation or search more?
  • Is my content fulfilling site visitors’ searches or does more content need to be created?
  • How accurate is my site search? Are people finding what they are looking for on the first search or do they constantly need to refine their search further?

The following example shows site search statistics for an ecommerce website over a 2 month period and how easy it is to answer these questions when site search tracking is setup within Google Analytics.

In this case, approximately 13.5% of all visits within this 2 month span have used the site search functionality on this website. Again putting various factors such as landing page testing aside, this is a significant statistic in that 13.5% equates to approximately 6,700 visits not finding what they were looking for on their respective landing page. Furthermore, 30% of these 6,700 visits had to conduct another search either because they were looking for several products or the search functionality was not at its most optimal level. Perhaps the brightest spot of this example is that despite the previous statistics, visitors stayed on the site over 2 minutes after conducting their search. This shows the content, when found, was engaging enough to keep users on the site and increase the likelihood of sales.

Now, it’s great to see these statistics in your Google Analytics account but how do you apply them into making critical website usability decisions?

Use your website with the mindset of a customer

Not enough businesses look at their website from the perspective of the customer. Instead, a website is viewed mostly in terms of matching up to the CEO and other top-level decision makers’ demands or for aesthetics (“well there should really be flash on the home page and images here, here, and there…”). Even worse is leaving it solely up to the developer or graphic designer.

Nonetheless, viewing your website as a potential customer can open your eyes up to the difficulties associated with finding various products and simply navigating throughout your website.

Conduct focus groups

Sometimes it’s hard to put your “customer” hat, so the next best option is to let others take a whirl around the site and listen to their feedback. Some companies spend thousands or millions of dollars for focus groups. Let’s face it, unless you’re a Fortune 500 company you likely don’t have that flexibility when it comes to your website.

So instead of spending any money, try the following types of focus groups:

  • Friends – make sure they are truly aware of what you are trying to accomplish and ensure you won’t be hurt by anything they say.
  • Employees – they know what you sell and are intimate with the information (not necessarily web content) surrounding your products or services.
  • Past Customers – you already have their contact information so reach out and ask them about their experiences on your website. In order to provide some incentive for their feedback, offer some sort of promotion such as 25% off their next purchase or free shipping. Not only will you receive great feedback but you’ll also be building loyalty because of showing you truly care about them and the overall customer experience on your site.

Test, test and retest

Face the facts, you will never have the perfect website. If you find the formula for the perfect website, than why haven’t you retired already?

Take the information and feedback collected from previous sources and apply those concepts. Measure and analyze the impact these adjustments have had not only site search statistics but overall website and conversion performance. Set a reasonable amount of time that needs to pass and data that needs to be collected before making any further changes. Once that threshold has passed, compare past and present performance and determine what areas still need improvement.

2. Potential Keyword and Content Opportunities


There are many facets of keyword research when setting up and optimizing PPC accounts ranging from website content and marketing materials to keyword tools and the now-defunct Google Wonder Wheel to search query reports. The ultimate objective, as we all know, is to best match search query to paid keyword to landing page/content; however sometimes these methods of keyword research just aren’t enough and opportunities are missed.

Site search keyword analysis yields something these pre-click methods don’t: post-click keyword research.

Take the following as an example of how site search can play an integral part of finding highly relevant and specific keywords that likely have tremendously low competition and thus are very cheap:

Your initial keyword research reveals a tremendous amount of search volume for your brand, Groller Collectibles, but little to no volume on product specific keywords. As a result, your current PPC keywords include, among others, variations of your brand name. These branded keywords are producing excellent click and click through rate statistics, but you also use resellers as part of your overall business strategy which results in competition on your brand name thus keeping click costs higher than if you were the lone advertiser on those keywords. The end result: PPC is producing an excellent ROI (or ROAS depending on how you look at it) but click costs are cutting into your margin because of competition.

As part of your PPC optimization activities, you analyze post-click keywords from your site search statistics as shown below.

Although users are entering your website on “Groller Collectibles”, they are actively searching for specific products via your site search functionality as displayed above. Since users are entering on your brand, they obviously know you sell eagles, cats, and other collectibles. Although previous keyword research yielded little to no search volume on these phrases (“groller collectible eagle”), this post-click data suggests otherwise.

Take this analysis and put it into effect within your PPC accounts. Begin testing longer-tailed branded phrases centered on your specific products such as “groller collectible eagles” and “groller collectible cats”. You’ll likely find that in addition to serving more relevant ads and driving traffic to specific product pages, resellers are likely only using your generalized brand name (“groller collectibles”) which would result in:

  • No competition on these longer-tailed branded keywords
  • Higher quality scores and ad rank, resulting in lower CPCs, due to exactly matching the searcher’s query

The end result following post-click keyword research? An even higher ROI/ROAS and increased margin, while also improving click through rates and conversion rates due to serving more specific ad copy and driving traffic to specific product pages.


Take the previous example and look at it from a content perspective now. Your home page, which is the current landing page of your branded keywords, is performing great with very low bounce rates. In comparison, product specific pages are somewhat lagging in terms of content or aren’t created at all (maybe you’re selling some products solely offline).

Although branded phrases are driving a significant portion of traffic and sales, site search analysis reveals a significant amount of users are looking for “eagles” and “cats” on your website. After reviewing these statistics, you realize the content surrounding eagle products is minimal at best, while there are no pages specifically dedicated to cat products.

Imagine the performance of not only your PPC campaigns, but your entire website and business if content is created and improved for these specific products?

3. Product Expansion

The previous two reasons center around your current business and advertising strategies; however site search can benefit your business in branching out into potential new and profitable product areas.

For example:

You currently only sell blue widgets, which are being sold like crazy, but the industry is composed of an entire rainbow of colored widgets. Through analyzing your site search statistics, you discover that over 50% of searches are centered around red widgets even though you don’t sell them. These users have found your website, through some means, so why not trying to capitalize upon this momentum by offering some red widgets for at least a short time to test their performance? By only offering these new products in limited quantities, yet competitive prices, you can effectively test their potential with little to no changes besides site content.

Site Search Tracking Setup

Convinced you need to track your website’s site search yet? Rather than providing a dry, step by step written setup process, take a look at the following video from Google Analytics Conversion University.


In our experience, not enough businesses are tapping into the benefits site search tracking offers. With little setup and a capability that is free within Google Analytics, it should be a no-brainer that every business/website using site search capabilities needs to track its performance. Significant missed opportunities that could be gained from site search tracking including website usability, customer experience, and overall sales can elevate a business from mediocre to an industry leader.

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