How to Set Up and Use On Site Search Tracking (In Google Analytics): Survival Tip for Keyword (not provided)

Posted by SiteTuners on 4 November 2013 | Comments

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Econsultancy has a really catchy name for it: Data Apocalypse. When Google announced that they would no longer be sending referring search terms to web sites, replacing everything with the ominous (not provided) - the online marketing world gasped:

There is, of course, our own reaction, along with hundreds more, and you’ll be hearing more about this as future solutions get rolled out. 

In the interim, though, if you haven’t gotten around to staunching the bleeding yet, the least you need to do is set up tracking for internal site search. It is keyword intent analysis, after all, albeit from inside the web site.

If your site is one of the millions using Google Analytics, here’s a quick rundown of how to set it up, and how to maximize the tool.

Find Out How Your Search Parameters Work

This seems to be one of the biggest barriers to entry. Finding out what the URL parameter is for your site’s searches typically isn’t difficult - it’s usually the part after the question mark.

Say you perform a search on CNN. The resulting URL will look like this:

In this URL, “edition” is the subdomain, “cnn.com” is the domain, “search” is the path – you don’t need those sections. You need the part after the? – those are the parameters.

In this case, the query is “google,” and the query parameter is “query.” “query” is the part of the URL you need to enable internal site search. 

Let’s try another web site. Say you search for “surface” on Microsoft’s web site.

The subdomain is “search,” the domain is “microsoft.com,” the path is “/en-US/results.aspx.” After that comes the section you need - the query is “surface” and the query parameter is “q.” To enable internal site search, you need to remember that you need to put in “q” as the query parameter inside Google Analytics.

Got it? Let’s dive in.

Setting Up Internal Search Tracking

1. From the top of the Google Analytics toolbar, select Admin.

2. Below the third column, go to View Settings.

3. At the bottom of the screen, set Site search Tracking to ON.

4. Add the Query parameter, then save the changes. (Remember “query” or “q” from above?)

Stick a fork in it, you’re done. 

Or at least, you’re done with the setup - let’s jump in to analysis.

Best Use Cases for Internal Search Analytics

We’ve covered internal search before, and you can visit that post for a more in-depth take on the use cases. However, with external keywords gone, the least you can do is review intent based on the things people type in to your search box:

1. Study the top search terms, and “group” buckets of intent. Find patterns in what people are searching for. This is about as close as you can get to “intent” data from a clickstream tool - visitors telling you exactly what they came to your web site for.

2. Fix the pages where people can’t find what they need. If a lot of people search at specific parts of the web site, that section may not be very usable. Look at not just what they are searching for, but where they are searching from - you might uncover “broken" sections of the web site.

3. Fix your search results. Of course, if you can modify the internal search engine based on results that need the most help, it’s best to do that for your most used queries. Amy Africa has tips for specific improvements that we’ve covered before.

If you’re looking for more resources, Avinash Kaushik and Louis Rosenfeld both also cover some great use cases for internal site search. For now, it’s time to get cracking - have you set up internal site search tracking yet?


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