What is Search Analytics and Why Should I Care?

Live-ish from SMX Toronto it’s

What is Search Analytics and Why Should I Care?

Moderator: Caleb Whitmore, Analytics Pros


They start with self-intros. Marko has a book coming out on online search analytics. Anil is VP of Search & Analytics at POP. Trying to build search & analytics into all of the sites that they build. Also blogs at http:\www.anilbatra.comblog. Alan K’necht president of an agency in Toronto. In Analytics since 1994. His book is coming out this year, a satirical look at the industry. [Should be fun.]

Poll: Who would say they’re doing search analytics. About half the hands. And about half of those for a company, half for agencies.

Q: How would you define search analytics

Alan: Search analytics is 2 prongs. A subset of the total website analytics. First we look at the traffic that came from search, both paid and organic. 2nd prong: how successful are these visitors at getting to what they’re doing, and to what you want.

Anil: Understanding user behavior, on your site and your competitors’ site, on-site and offisite.

Marko: I agree. Search is the big engines and it’s on-site search and enterprise. Anywhere where you type a keyword. The biggest thing about search is that you can infer intent. So you can match it to user goals, and analyze the success and failures of your own site.

Caleb: So anywhere where the user is telling you what he’s looking for.

Anil & Alan: Right. Twitter, YouTube, whereever the visitor is showing you his or her intent.

Q: Is there any facet that’s competitive, understanding your customer on a competitive site

Marko: Don’t discount things like Quantcast and Compete. Also Google Webmaster Tools. Anywhere where you can look at keywords and keyphrases. Reverse some of your SEM tools and you can get great info on yourself and your competitors. There’s SEO Quake, great to learn about your competitors.

Anil: One tool we use is Compete. Type your competitor’s URL and see what’s driving traffic to them. Now you can leverage that info.

Alan: We’re almost all in agreement. Part of analytics is understanding we’re not getting enough traffic, we keep seeing this other site ahead of us. So deconstruct. Why are they getting what we’re not. There’s a competitive nature to this. Why aren’t we getting our search traffic.

Anil: Anybody not familiar with Webmaster tools? [Some hands]

Alan: All the engines have it. You register your site with them, and get some good info.

Anil: If you haven’t done this yet, that’s the first thing. You’ll learn a lot from it.

Marko: One of the greatest thing about deconstructing these is that you can analyze: look at what keywords you want to show up for, and what keywords you are showing up for. And look at your content. Make sure these 3 things are in alignment. Often they’re not.

Caleb: What’s a good example of search analytics providing a point of success.

Anil: One of my customers from the health care field. We found out people were mostly interested in Symptoms. I’ll look at what are they symptoms of a heart attack. Then I’ll look for what are my treatment options. Only after do I look for a doctor. So you’re site has to be in front of the customer in each of those steps. Whether through paid or organic.

Alan: Another practical example. 2 years ago I worked with a client that was an information site. [Wonder what that’s like.]Search brought in a good chunk of their traffic. A popular part of their site was film reviews. Film critics insisted on writing “Film reviews.” But in their base, 3 times as many people typed “Movie reviews.” But “Film reviews” searchers did more views per visit. So we had to look at all the numbers. They implemented the change, and it increased page views by about 25%.

Marko: I’ll use an on-site search example. Financial services client. Mutual funds. They manage a little over a trillion dollars. [Cool]. They were putting in a new search engine. But right before they went live, they found that it was giving much worse results. So we were brought in to look at it. Algorithms alone are only 50% of your job. The rest is Content Strategy. We asked are you using synonyms? A controlled vocabulary? You want to get to having an ontology. When they finally did go live after our changes we were able to get a lift of about 350% in relevancy. A lot of analysis is just somebody using Excel, take your top 25 keywords, what pages are people finding their results on. If it’s not on page 1 most of the time, there’s a problem.

Anil: When you look at on-site search, it’s very different than the search engines.

Caleb: Who here has invested time in on-site search analysis [Very few hands]. Organic? [Many more]. Paid? [Same as organic]

Anil: You should really look more at the online search. Your main job is to get the customer what he’s looking for.

Alan: Our top exit page was the Online Search results. We looked at it, and realized why they were leaving. The results were awful.

Anil: We saw that the page layout wasn’t what people were expecting. Testing is important. You need to A/B test your search results/

Marko: Just to add to that. One of the things I found is that analyzing on-site search doesn’t usually happen in the same tool. You can get Google Analytics to do this. That makes it much easier.

Q: How many of you are using Google Analytics? [Almost every hand]

Q: How many of you are also using at least one other analytics tool? [Most hands]

Anil: You should show a list of what people are searching for. People like seeing that, and their helpful links.

Marko: In most search engines there’s a Best Bets feature you should use.

Q: Any favorite onsite search engines?

Marko: It depends what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for true enterprise solution, for millions of pieces of data, FAST is a good solution. Vivisimo is good for social. They do great ontology work. Solr if you’re looking for a big bucket of freebies.

Alan: Agreed. If you’re midsized, you may have something built into your CMS.

Anil: Yes, depends on your budget. If you’re cash strapped, Google Custom Search is a good solution.

Q: Do you find that Google Custom Search works well for onsite?

Anil: Preferable is if you can customize more. With Google there are limits to how much you can customize. Depends on your resources. If you can afford something else, go with something else.

Marko: To clarify about Google Custom Search. They have the free version. There’s also Google Mini, their version of enterprise search. If it’s a public facing site than fine. But it’s a black box. They won’t let you touch their algorithms. And it still relies on a Page Rank algorithm, sometimes it takes a lot of work to work around that.

Audience member: And if you use the free version, they put their sponsored links there. So somebody’s doing an onsite search, and your competitor’s add shows up.

Alan: Yeah, that’s why I don’t recommend it if you’re a retailer, if you’re selling something. If you’re an information site, than this may be fine.

Marko: You need to know what different search engines are good at indexing. Some of the sites that are very good on products don’t index the FAQs, support pages, etc.

Caleb: With Google search you can pay for an upgrade to get rid of the ads. About $100 per year. [I don’t know if that’s US or Canadian dollars. Kidding. I think the exchange rate was .99 to 1 yesterday. I don’t know which way.]

Q: Can I track from online research to offline buying?

Alan: You can get custom 800 numbers.

Q: How do I measure the other way, people who went to the store and then bought online.

Alan: No real way to do that, without asking the user.

Anil: One thing we’ve done. We had paid search, but all the conversions were offline. We created a coupon that was only available through paid search.

Marko: One thing to add. It’s not about being #1. If you remember any one thing, remember this. SEO maybe used to be about always being #1. Now it’s about getting your users to what they want and then to what you want. It must be in that order. This is a conversation. Keywords are a confession. He’s telling you what he wants. Turn it into a conversation.

One Takeaway?

Marko: Why should you care? In an online environment there are only 3 ways to get to info. Browse. Search. And an ask model that starts a live dialogue. Search is the #1 way to get to information. Onsite it’s usually second to browse. But on some sites like eCommerce sites search is generally over 60%.

Anil: Don’t get caught up in clicks, CTRs. Always do your ROI calculations. I was doing an ROI calculation for a class I was teaching. I used a model and showed we can drop the bounce rate to zero, and you’ll still be losing money. Do your ROI calculations.

Alan: I’ll leverage off of that. I did a keynote on March 10, 2000. Nasdaq dropped 25%. I was in Australia (it was actually March 11 for me). I hadn’t heard yet. I said “If you don’t focus on your profit, the bubble is going to burst. I got off stage, and found out that the bubble had burst. [So it’s Alan’s fault! I knew it].

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