Using search terms as part of a content audit can give insight into the structure of your site. You can analyze these search terms to inform your taxonomy and future content efforts, and to evaluate the findability of content on your site.
This article refers to using the on-site search terms in a content audit.
Search terms not in your taxonomy
As a way to improve taxonomy and search, one way to use on-site search terms to improve search results is to see how the searched terms are accommodated in the taxonomy. To do this, take the searched term and identify where it is in the taxonomy, either as a preferred term, a synonym, or a keyword or keyphrase.
You may not want all of the search terms in the taxonomy or maybe there is no content for the term. If there are search terms for which you don’t have content and you would never talk about that term, then it’s not appropriate to put it into the taxonomy or to have content for that term.
After reviewing the search terms, some of these terms may align with your organization’s content strategy. You can feed these search terms into the content creation life cycle.
If these search terms are within your organization’s domain, then creating content around the term can be a longer term goal.
Note that improving search by adding preferred terms, synonyms, and keywords and phrases isn’t as simple as adding these terms to your taxonomy. You’ll still need to ensure that the search tool uses the taxonomy to improve search results.
Each search tool is different, so you’ll need to investigate based on the tool and talk with developers.
Can’t Find Page through Browse
Browsing and searching are two ways to access content on a website. While users might start their website experience with the search box, they can also turn to search when they can’t find content through browse.
(Note that it is more typical for users to browse on your site instead of using the search box on your site. A search engine, such as Google or Bing, is a different use case that directs users to content on your site.)
Going through the search terms to see what users have searched for can potentially tell you what people can’t find on your site. We say “potentially” because you really need to dig into these search terms to see what’s happening on your site.
Ways to Investigate
Some ways to investigate what is happening with search terms include:
- Does the search term and its variants appear frequently? If the term comes up frequently in the search terms, this may point to popular content that can’t be found through browsing.
- Does the search term and its variants not appear frequently? If it doesn’t come up frequently, it may point to content that is easier to find through browse or is not popular for users.
- Compare the page hits: If the content isn’t popular but is searched for frequently, this can point to the content not being findable on the site. If the content isn’t popular and not searched frequently, this can point to the content being irrelevant to the site.
- Reenact the search: Take some of the more frequently searched terms and perform that search on your site. What results appear? Do the results match the intent of the search? Do odd results appear? Evaluate the results and list the ways the content, taxonomy, and search tool can be improved to improve the search results.
Where to get the search terms
To get the on-site search terms, consult your Analytics expert. In Google Analytics, these search terms are listed in Behavior>Site Search section.
Once you get these search terms, you’ll want to eliminate redundancies and terms that are very similar. If you want to optimize for the most popular search terms, start at the top of the list (in terms of frequency). If you want to optimize for the long tail, look at the terms that don’t occur frequently.
Thanks to Tom Johnson for the Browse vs Search article and AGConsult for the article on Navigation vs Search. This Search Log Analysis article from NN Group is also a great resource.
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(A previous version of this post used an image with a wooden box. This was mistakenly taken from woodenearth.com.
It was an unintentional copyright infringement. Sorry.)