UIEtips: Spending Quality Time with Your Search Log

Jared Spool

June 9th, 2010

The search log, an often over-looked part of our site analytics, can offer a wealth of great information about how people interact with our design. We know, for example, that users often search for a keyword they don’t find on the screen, in essence creating their own link. Inspecting the search log can tell us what links are missing from the page, delivering us a bunch of productive changes to make to the site.

The best search logs contain more than just keywords. They tell us what page the user searched from and, if we’re lucky, which result the user chose. This information—where the user came from and where the user went after, can tell a story that becomes helpful and insightful.

In this issue of UIEtips, I go back to an article we published in January of this year. I walk through some of the questions we answer when we’re studying a client’s search log. We’ve had great success with both public-facing sites and intranets, yielding an amazing list of substantial improvements to our clients’ designs. I’m sure you’ll find them beneficial too.

Read the article – Spending Quality Time with Your Search Log

Finding the issues is just the first step to getting to these types of improvements. You need to know how to fix them. Which is where Peter Morville and Mark Burrell come in.

On Wednesday, June 23, Lou Rosenfeld will do a deep dive with search logs when he delivers the next UIE Virtual Seminar, Site Search Analytics. Lou will show you how to take advantage of your site’s query data to improve your users’ experience.

This is a must-attend seminar if you’re trying to get more from your site’s query data. Learn more about Lou’s Virtual Seminar.

Have you peered into your search log? We’d love to hear what you found. Join the discussion below.

5 Responses to “UIEtips: Spending Quality Time with Your Search Log”

  1. Shaun Ryan Says:

    Nice article. I agree with you that the search logs can offer fantastic information. A couple of additional points:

    If you are tracking clicks from the search you can identify search terms that have poor results. Normally this is because you don’t have the content, or search doesn’t return relevant results. Often it is caused by your visitors using different language than you do on your site. This is valuable to know and can be remedied by either using that language on your site using synonyms so the correct content can be found.

    You kind of touched on this – you should use your search logs to come up with candidate names for your navigational links – because it is the language of your visitors. For example if you call a category “canine” but you see your visitors searching for “dogs”, then you should probably rename the link. It is more likely to trigger an action if it is in the language of your customers.

    Finally – you don’t have to go through the logs to get this information. A decent site search should come with this sort of reporting and their are analytics packages (including the free Google Analytics) that will provide much of this.

  2. Vegard Sandvold Says:

    From the article: If one of your top terms is a category, users might be more successful with that as a navigation element, not requiring search.

    True, and I would also like to add that general search terms are good indicators of suitable categories and facets for query clarification and refinement. When searching for “salsa music”, I would like to find music as a search result category, and salsa as an option in a genre facet. Similar for “cancer treatment” search.

  3. Rachel Potts Says:

    Interesting article:-)
    At Red Gate began looking at our search data in Google Analytics around a year ago – particularly with a view to improving findability of our technical documentation. It has since become an invaluable part of our understanding of what our users are trying to do, and how our content is performing at supporting them in doing it.
    (I wrote up some of my early thoughts about this here: http://communicationcloud.wordpress.com/2009/11/19/what-can-web-analytics-do-for-technical-communications/)

    Looking at this search data also highlighted the problems with our current search – to the extent that we’re now running a project to replace the search engine and change the way that we incorporate knowledge about search behaviour into our continuous improvement programmes. In particular, we’ve acknowledged that search logs or search data aren’t something you can look at once, to check the search is working when you implement it; instead you need to keep checking back on what people are trying to do and how well they’re able to do it – as users encounter new problems, and new content is published.


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  5. Scott Armstrong Says:

    Awesome post and article Jared. Smart and valuable advice. We are big fans of spending time in your search data but I admit we cheat by using marketing automation to make it easier to refine your inbound and outbound marketing strategy!

    I just linked to it from a post on “B2B Marketing: How to understand what your customer wants to know”. It is a great technical and site optimization take on the same idea.

    Thanks for sharing.


    Scott Armstrong

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