Know What Your Customers Want: Analyze Internal Search Data With Google Analytics

Ian Lurie

I’ve seen conversion rates jump by as much as 20% on sites tailored to internal search phrases. To accomplish that, though, you need to know your site’s internal search data. What’s internal search data? If you know what your customers search for on your site, you can deliver more of what they want. Here’s how you can use two free tools to measure internal search.

Google’s new Custom Search Business Edition is a great search engine for small to mid-size sites. But it doesn’t provide much in the way of useful analytics – a little graph of search volume, and a short list of heavily searched phrases, if you’re lucky.

Enter Google Analytics. You can use Google Analytics filters to create detailed, easy-to-read onsite search reports. Here’s how:

Online Videos by

View this video in Quicktime format: Click here.

Here’s the same steps, in text, in case you need them while you set up:

  1. First, set up your Google custom search engine. If you don’t have Google CSE, then see the video tutorial here. You can be up and running in a few minutes.
  2. Next, log into Google Analytics. If you don’t have Google Analytics, see the video tutorials here.
  3. Go to the Analytics Settings page. You’ll see this page when you log in. If not, click ‘Analytics Settings’ at the upper left of the screen.
    Analytics Settings
  4. Click ‘Edit’ next to the reporting profile for your site.
    Edit report
  5. Under ‘Filters Applied to Profile’, click ‘Add Filter’.
    Add a filter
  6. Set up a filter with these exact settings:
    It’s very important that you enter this exact formula into the Field A -> Extract A field: q=([^&]*)&sa=Search. This bit of gobbledygook is a regular expression. It’s a highly geeky way of getting a computer to go through a bunch of words, characters and random text and find just what you want. If you want to know what it’s doing, see the video tutorial, above.
  7. Save changes.

That’s it. In about 24 hours, you’ll start seeing results. To find your results:

  1. Log into your Google Analytics account.
  2. View your report.
  3. Click ‘Content’.
  4. Click ‘Content by Title’.
  5. Scroll down to ‘Find Page Title Containing’ and enter ‘search2’.
  6. Voila. You’ll see a list of phrases entered into your onsite search tool.

Internal Search Data are the words and phrases site visitors enter into your own web site’s search tool:

Your Site's Internal Search

This data is often completely different from the phrases visitors use to find you on a search engine. It’s also a great indicator of what those visitors really want to see when they arrive. Internal search is the best way to find out how your customers use your site.

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is the founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team- training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at

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  1. Does this work with Google Co-Op custom search engine? – i.e the custom search engine you can build that searches multiple sites.

  2. Hi,
    I tried this with my google co-op search engine and it doesn’t seem to work. I still get )*^(& something like that in the content section of analytics. Any ideas?

  3. Hi ian,
    Well, I did the exact thing you did Ian. I followed the videos and put the exact line “q=([^&]*)&sa=Search” in filter A and on B what I put is search | $A1. Was that right? I could give you screenshots and more if you want :).

  4. Hi Mike,
    That’s probably the problem right there. Filter B should be left blank. The Output To -> Constructor should be set to ‘Page Title’ in the drop down, and then search | $A1
    Hope that fixes it…

  5. Hi Ian,
    I’m sorry. What I meant for filter b was the output to > constructor. I left Filter B blank… . Still doesn’t work, thanks for the help btw.

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