Site Search Analytics: Let the Tail Wag the Dog

By Arnold, Erik | Searcher, May 2007 | Go to article overview
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Site Search Analytics: Let the Tail Wag the Dog

Arnold, Erik, Searcher

Search analytics had officially become a buzzword--a strange occurrence given the general "buzzless" dullness of looking at log files. However, book publishers, bloggers, research companies, search engine optimization (SEO) mavens, newsgroups, etc. have all figured out that search analytics generate tangible benefits. In the brief history of the Web, log files have been one of the most under-utilized resource for improving a Web site. For those few of us with high Web mileage, the increasing interest in Web logs is promising and welcome news.

What does the term site search analytics mean? It refers to the process of looking at your search engine log files and evaluating the information the files supply to improve and implement changes to a Web site. This may sound like common sense, but few consistently execute this process. Until recently, site search analytics tools have been hard to use and the need to worry about site search has remained a low or nonexistent priority for many organizations with Web sites. Site search analytics differs from "search engine marketing" (SEM), but both share similar components. Organizations with Web sites that sell dog biscuits right up to the Fortune 500 all practice SEM. These organizations understand the necessary of generating traffic to their sites by purchasing keywords on Google, Yahoo!, or MSN. Actually, from a business standpoint, the analysis that goes into deciding which words make sense in SEM is very similar to site search analytics.

Site search analytics acknowledges that search is a business problem for a Web site more than a technology problem. People make false assumptions in regards to search because they focus on issues difficult to explain to colleagues and people contributing content to a Web site, such as "relevancy" or "precision." Like Dragnet's Joe Friday, analytics deals in facts. "Just the facts."

Search Was Plumbing

There are valid reasons why site search was not a priority in the past. Most Web sites are built around the original World Wide Web model of directories and links. Companies often divided their sites into different topics for users to navigate. This had the benefit of placing publishers in control of their information. Rigid content containers make it easy to design, organize, and even guesstimate end-user behavior.

Then Google's shadow fell across the happy world of Web content. Google taught people to search first and browse second. Search is the preferred starting point for information access and retrieval among both knowledge workers and the "thumb generation." This profound change now sends shivers down the spines of Web site managers, as most site searches are, frankly, terrible.

Search was merely considered a piece of plumbing, the last thing the "tech guy" would turn on before the Web site opened for business. So while sales and marketing demanded and received sophisticated Web site tracking software, search was trivial, just a piece of the technology gear used to operate a Web site.

A quick look at Yahoo! [] today shows that it no longer offers a directory on its home page. While one may view this as bowing to the success of Google, the change was triggered by search analytics. Analytics revealed that users wanted to search and not browse for information.

New studies show that Web visitors who immediately use a Web site search engine will leave if results are not satisfactory. Forrester found that more than half of major Web sites fail in search capability. Web sites that do not move aggressively toward improving search risk losing customers and market position--or, in library terms, patrons and usage.

The future growth of site search analytics is no guess. Why? For the first time, site search generates money, and money always leads to devoted attention. Keyword search traffic is lucrative. Google garners over a third of its revenue by displaying advertisements on other Web sites.

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Site Search Analytics: Let the Tail Wag the Dog


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