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Let's be honest, people aren't in awe of the web anymore. When most people visit your site, they are there for a purpose or to complete a task. And either you are with ‘em or against ‘em.

Are you going to help them find what they are looking for quickly and easily, or not? Most marketers and content managers don't know if their web site search is frustrating their users or helping them find what they are seeking.

No one comes to your site just to test the search. Someone using your search function is looking to do something, or get information that they think exists on your site, but they cannot intuitively find in your navigation. According to a Jupiter Research Report:

  • 33% of customers look first to site search instead of navigation, and
  • 50% will turn to site search if the navigation and qualification schemes do not help them find what they are looking for.

Bottom line: Having a site search that works well is important in helping up to 50% of your users complete their online task(s).

Below, there are 3 steps that will help you:

  1. Retrieve the keywords users enter on your site
  2. Determine your current site search effectiveness
  3. Fix your site search if the results that come up aren't what you expected

Step 1: Identify Users' Search Terms

What keywords are users typing in on your site to complete their task?

It is quite insightful to see what your web site users are searching for on your site. While you may assume certain areas of your site are "no-brainers" and easily located, many of your web site visitors may not share in your sentiment.

Uncovering the sections of your site that users have difficulty finding can help you in the decision making process when it comes to site labeling, and usability.

Using either your site search tool or a web analytics tool, find the keywords that your web site visitors type into your search box. This may require a little prying of your IT staff, but the headache will be worth it, and if done correctly is a one-time request.

A recommendation: Analysis of your local keyword searches is best performed in a web analytics program because you can analyze user behavior after the search. (For example: How many users submit a lead, view a product, buy an item, e-mail customer support, etc., after search?)

Step 2: Take a Step in Your Users' Shoes

Now that you know the terms users are typing into your search box, take the top 5 terms and enter them into your search yourself. Are the answers accurate and easy to locate?

Think of it this way: do the results returned for those keywords typed in your search box help your users complete their tasks, or are the results unrelated to their query altogether?

If your answer is yes, search results are accurate, then stop reading here. Congratulate yourself--you're fine. Keep an eye on your search terms every few months (and especially after redesigns).

If your answer is no, then let's get you on the right track to fixing this problem. Read step 3 below.

Step 3: If It's Broke, Fix it

The techniques used to optimize your site for Google, MSN, and other search engines should assist your internal search tremendously (check marketingprofs articles for help with search engine optimization). For starters include the keyword in your page title and meta tags.

Some robust site search tools even allow you to alter your site's search results in a more direct way; they may allow you to manipulate search results by placing selected pages as the first result for certain keyword searches.

For most marketers though, you will have to optimize certain pages within your own sites to get them well ranked in your site search.

Does it seem simple? This is not a painful process. But the most difficult part is getting access to the terms that web site visitors type into your search box. The benefits of analyzing local search keywords far outweigh the difficulty in attaining the information.

Finally, Analyze the Results

Every month or so, check out your top 5 most queried terms, type them into your search, and if the right results are within the top 10 results you should be ok. If not, continue to check the search every so often and make tweaks to the important pages to get them highly ranked.

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image of Wil Reynolds

Wil Reynolds is the founder and director of digital strategy at Seer Interactive. He's helped Fortune 500 companies develop SEO strategies since 1999 and leverages "Big Data" to break down silos between SEO, PPC, and traditional marketing.