Mini‑case Study: Analytics, Overlays And Internal Search.

October 1, 2006

What do you get when you integrate –mentally — your analytics overlay with your analytics numbers? A whole lot of insight into what your users are doing. In this case, my insight was all about internal search.

1. What does the overlay say?

We like to use Crazy Egg for Google Analytics sites because the GA overlay is so lousy. And while we still have to wait for two weeks of data to feel more conclusive, we are seeing that the search box is the most used link on the home page of one site. (Note: if the page under analysis — in this case, the homepage — has three separate ways to reach another page, like “About Us,” the sum of those three sets of clicks may exceed the total clicks for a single link like “Search.” This is in direct contrast to Google Analytics, where you always get the same information on links that go to the same page unless you add special code. But I digress.)

2. What do the analytics tell me when I drill down on the overlay issues?

The fact that Search is so popular rings all sorts of not-pleasant bells. It’s true that some people like to use the search box, just like some people walk into a department store, ignore the signs around them and ask the first salesperson where they can find what they need. However, if internal search is too popular, it probably means that people aren’t finding what they want at a glance – in your navigation and in the links from the home page.

Are they at least finding what they want when they search? I went to my Dynamic Content report and filtered by the word “search” to get the search page. Then, I exported it into Notepad because that gave me more control over how it would end up in Excel. I used Find and Replace to get rid of all the properties and other junk that comes with the search query data. And then I sat back and looked at it.

I was initially interested in sorting by search term, so that I could group identical or near-identical searches together. But as I was straightening up the data, I realized that very few searchers continued after the search – many if not most of the searches had a 100% exit rate. Very strange, right? So I started typing search terms into the company’s search engine. And I was awed at how often the internal search engine came back with “Can’t find it” — even for the company’s most popular products.

3. In summary…

… in summary, in about an hour, I learned that too many people use the search, probably because they can’t find what they want from the navigation and other links on the home page. Furthermore, most of them leave because the internal search engine doesn’t work very well.

What a great application of web analytics.

Robbin Steif