Harnessing on-site search

Google recently announced plans to shutter Google Site Search (GSS), a subscription-based tool that allowed websites to harness the power of Google search for on-site searching. Sales of the service ceased April 1, 2017, and functionality will be discontinued one year later after current subscriptions expire.

For brands using GSS to power their website search capabilities, now’s the time to begin exploring other options and taking necessary steps to ensure user experience and continuity are maintained throughout the transition. It’s also a great time to remind brands of the importance of on-site search performance and to harness that information to improve content.

But first consider alternatives to Google Site Search. A free option is Google Custom Search. This option is ad-supported and includes results from the entire web, and there is no way to opt out of that — meaning your competitors could show up in search results on your website. Also, Google Custom Search caps queries daily, so the functionality will stop working if you meet the quota.

Not interested in using a Google product? Consider a comparable option from Amazon, Amazon CloudSearch. Comparable to Google Cloud Search, this option is scalable and easy to customize. Cludo is another option that offers robust search analytics and customization.

If you’re using a content management system (CMS), consider exploring the built-in search function or a Site Search plug-in, extension, or add-on. Functionality and analytics vary by platform, but you should always take steps to set up Site Search reporting in Google Analytics or Google Tag Manager.

Whatever platform you choose, on-site search is a powerful indicator of your customers’ intent and actions. According to Moz, people who perform a site search are twice as likely to convert, and they’re more likely to return later to make a purchase.

What Site Search metrics should I monitor?

Assuming you’re using a tool that provides on-site search analytics, start by reviewing keyword data and identify those keywords that are searched most frequently. Take a closer look at their instances (impressions), clicks, and click-through rate (CTR). In an on-site search, the CTR is measured by clicks/instances. Metrics like time on page, conversion, comments, and shares can also indicate the value of a page. Connecting these metrics with the keywords used to find the content can help identify ways to improve content. One of the easiest steps you can take is to analyze the keywords your visitors are using, and create appropriate and relevant content to answer that query and meet their needs. Then begin optimizing existing content to better serve results for the specific queries your visitors use in on-site search.

Consider setting up new segments in Google Analytics to analyze user behavior when using Site Search. The percentage of visits with Site Search and search refinement, and the percentage of search exits, provide insight into the value of your content as it relates to visitor queries. Are they making significant refinements? This means they’re not finding what they’re looking for on the first try. Are they leaving immediately after visiting a search result? If these numbers are high, you may an opportunity to improve content optimization.

Also, you should expect to see longer session durations and higher pages per session for visitors using Site Search. If not, this is another indication that your site isn’t optimized for your visitors’ needs and queries.

Other metrics to monitor include:

  • Start page: the page from which a visitor searched your site.
  • Unique searches: the number of times people searched your site. Duplicate searches in the same session are removed.
  • Results pageviews/search: the average number of times visitors viewed a search results page after a search.
  • Average search depth: the number of pages a visitor viewed after getting results for the search term.
  • Time after search: the amount of time visitors spent on your site after getting search results.

Investing time and resources to improve your rankings, Domain Authority, and search visibility may already be part of your marketing efforts, but on-site search is often neglected. This is a captive and engaged audience telling you, “Hey, I’d really like to buy your stuff. Do me a solid and help me get to the right place to do that.” When you think about it like that, why on earth would you ignore them?