Identifying Missing Trigger Words from Search Logs

Jared Spool

March 31st, 2006

On the not-quite-dead-yet SIGIA-L list, Eric Scheid shared this idea for a product he’s developing:

I’m rolling out a search log tool and am wondering about capturing and reporting referrers to searches, including penultimate referrers.

A referrer to a search request would be the page the search is done from. The penultimate referrer is of course the page previous to the page the search is done from. Thus, for example, if a search is done from a given product page, then would it be interesting to know from whence they came to that page. For example, the user arrived there from Google, but then immediately did a site search.

I think this tool could be very useful and something I could see myself insisting our clients make use of.

Our research has shown that on most (not all) sites, only about 14% of search queries are issued from the home page. The vast majority of queries come after visiting lower level pages, such as galleries and content pages.

From this, we infer that many users are making a stab at trying to find what they are seeking by using the categories and links. Only when the scent trail dries up do they turn to Search.

When they turn to Search, our research has shown the queries they enter are the trigger words they were seeking. In essence, they are using Search to create their own links because the links on the page failed them.

For years, we’ve been telling our clients to look at their search logs and extract the trigger words. We’ve also suggested they make an effort to determine what pages the user was on when they made the search and to pay attention to the path they traversed to get there.

Our experience shows that you can see substantial improvements in user satisfaction and task completion by adding the links on the page that duplicate the queries users are making.

Having a tool that makes this simple would be extremely valuable.

(How people use on-site Search is something we talk a lot about at the UIE 2006 Roadshow. A few seats still available for Seattle, San Francisco, and Minneapolis.)

3 Responses to “Identifying Missing Trigger Words from Search Logs”

  1. Search roundup » SEO by the SEA Says:

    [...] Jared Spool, over at UIE Brainsparks, writes about collecting penultimate referrers in Identifying Missing Trigger Words from Search Logs. Collecting information about what people search for on your site through an online search function can be a good way of finding what people might want to see on your site. But, isn’t it also interesting to see what search might have brought them to the page where they conducted that search? Those next-to-last, or penultimate, searches might contain some useful information about what people expect to see on your site but might be missing. Nice idea. [...]

  2. Chris Grant Says:

    That’s a really interesting idea. Last night I set up a report in our analysis tool (WebTrends) that does approximately the same thing and ran it on a client’s data. Looking at the results, I can already see a couple of things that need attention on the site – in particular one external search term that kept resulting in on-site searches for almost the same term once people arrived at the site, or rather within a few clicks after arrival. I went to the landing page most of them started on and sure enough, there’s no obvious way to find from that page what those external search terms indicated they were seeking. This is cool.

    For anybody wanting to set up this report on WebTrends, you need the custom reporting capability. The custom report is: dimension 1: on-site search term; dimension 2: external search term. For cleanest reports, check “exclude traffic where this dimension was unspecified” for both dimensions.

  3. UIE Brain Sparks Says:

    BBC Reports Users Lose Patience With Poor Search

    No results are the worst offenders. When studying users using on-site Search, we saw, when shopping for clothes, they abandoned their shopping 55% of the time queries returned no results. For shoppers of Books, CDs, and DVDs, they abandoned 100% of th…

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