Still wondering how people are really using your website? The answer may be closer than you think, reports Jared Spool in a post at the User Interface Engineering blog. Though the search log may not be a part of a site's regular analytics package, its contents provide a window into users' thinking as they explore your site, he argues. Here are just some of the questions Spool says your search log can help answer:

What Are Your Top Search Terms? To determine what's truly tops, you can seek answers to ongoing questions such as these:

  • Do your top terms change with the seasons? "Some sites see surges in terms due to cyclical patterns," he notes. Example: universities may see "financial aid" searches increase as admission deadlines near.
  • Do the top terms match your most popular pages? "For many sites, the most popular pages won't match the [most popular] terms, because users are discovering them without searching," Spool cautions. Track this data separately.  

What Percentage of Search Actually Happens on the Search Results Pages? When users don't like their original search results, they'll likely search again at the results page. "Looking at the subsequent query can help identify important results problems," he says.

The Po!nt: Get to know your search log better. You'll likely unearth quirky data you didn't know was there. And by addressing it, "you'll create a great experience for your users," Spool concludes.

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