How to use Internal Site Search Data to Figure Out If You’re Giving your Readers What They Want

This is a guest post by Hannah Smith.

Whether you’re blogging for personal, professional or business; Google Analytics can offer a wealth of data – where your visitors are located, the search terms they used to find you, how much time they spent on your site and so on.

Trouble is, data in and of itself isn’t necessarily all that useful – how do you get from data to insight, and from insight to action?

Data’s great, but insight and action are even better – so today I wanted to share how to use Internal Site Search data from Google Analytics to figure out what content your readers want, and whether or not you’re providing it.


Well, internal site search offers a unique insight into what your blog’s visitors are seeking from you and whether or not they’re finding what they’re looking for. Step one – you’ll need to set it up (if you haven’t already done so).

How to Set up Internal Site Search in Google Analytics

Somewhat irritatingly, site search isn’t set up by default when you install Google Analytics – fortunately it’s pretty easy to set up.

  • Login to Google Analytics.
  • Click on the Admin tab (top right of your screen).
  • Select the appropriate website & profile you want to set up site search on.
  • Go to the Site Search Settings tab.
  • Select ‘do track site search’.
  • In the query parameter field, enter the words or letters that designate an internal query.parameter. To find out what your query parameters are run an internal site search. If you’re using WordPress chances are you’ll see something like this: The query parameter in this case is just the letter ‘s’ – you don’t need to enter the question mark.
  • Select whether or not you want Google Analytics to strip the query parameter from your URL.
  • Select whether or not you use categories, such as drop-down menus to refine a site search.
  • If you select “No”, you’re done, and just need to click “Save Changes”.
  • If you select “Yes”:
    • In the “Category Parameter” field, enter the letters that designate an internal query category such as ‘cat, qc,’.
    • Select whether or not you want Google Analytics to strip the category parameters from your URL.
    • Click Apply.

    And you’re all set! Please note it may take up to 48 hours for data to start coming through.

    Accessing Site Search Reports

    You can access the site search reports by logging into Analytics, going to “Content” in the left hand menu, clicking on “Site Search”, and then click on “Search Terms”:

    Site Search - Google Analytics

    And here’s where it gets interesting…

    Site Search - Search Terms 2

    Here you can see the most popular search terms and associated metrics. Here’s what the other metrics mean:

    • Total Unique Searches – pretty self-explanatory.
    • Results Page Views / Search – the number of pages of search results your visitors viewed after they searched.
    • Search Exits – the percentage of people who exit after performing a search.
    • % Search Refinements – again pretty self-explanatory.
    • Time after Search – Probably the metric you should care most about – this is the amount of time visitors spend on your site after performing a search.
    • Search Depth – the number of pages visitors view post completing a search.

    What insight can you get from this?

    Firstly you can see what your visitors are searching for – this is probably quite interesting even by itself – as it enables you to see what topics are of interest. Better than that though – this report can also tell you whether or not you’re successfully delivered what your visitors are looking for.

    Let’s go back to this report:

    Site Search - Search Terms 2

    So thanks to this report I can see ‘content marketing’ is something that my visitors are interested in finding out more about.

    I can also see that I’m not doing as great a job as I could in helping them.

    31.03% of visitors exit after performing this search. Now as this is a blog, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; if visitor’s exit because they’ve found what they were looking for that’s fine. However, when I look at the ‘Time after Search’ metric I can see that on average visitor’s spend just 8 seconds on my site following this search. This most likely means that these visitors are conducting this search, checking the results page then concluding that the posts returned aren’t what they’re looking for.

    Moving from Insight to Action

    While this isn’t great news; this sort of insight is really valuable and leads to action – in this case the data suggests I need to create more content around ‘content marketing’ (oh the irony!).

    See the Results

    Now let’s imagine that I’ve done just that – I’ve written some new posts on ‘content marketing’ – a month has passed and I’m keen to see if what I’ve done has improved the situation at all. The great thing is all I need to do is sneak a peek at the same report to see if things have improved. Make sure to select a suitable date range – i.e. pick a date range that begins on the date that you published your new content and click Compare to Previous Period.

    You can then see if your new content has improved the situation. Ideally you’ll be looking at reduced “Search Exits” and an increase in “Time after Search”.

    Pretty neat, huh? I’d strongly encourage you to have a play with Internal Site Search – do let me know how you get on via the comments.

    If this has whetted your appetite for all things Google Analytics I’d recommend checking out the following resources:

    If you’re just starting out with Google Analytics and are looking for a more comprehensive resource you may find this guide from Simply Business useful – it takes you through the entire set up process step by step.

    Not sure what metrics to focus on? This is a great start – 3 Metrics to Watch in Google Analytics.

    Everyone tells you to set up goals in Google Analytics – and this post is particularly relevant for bloggers – how to set up blog comments as goals.

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  1. says

    I find that the internal site search analytics is great because it can offset the anonymized search traffic that Google is sending your site. It helps solve for “Once people are on my blog, what are they looking for?” This is a question we (as bloggers) always try to address so people are happy, come back more often and even share our content among their friends.

  2. says

    This is great information, and I keep saying that I could probably study Google Analytics for a week and still not have it all figured out.

    Though, your information is great for anyone that is seriously wanting to follow and track a blog stats. And it’s a good thing to remember that unique visitors and searches are the best way to track. Using unique visitors and search will give you the most accurate information.