Google Analytics Site Search: Working with the Data

Ian Lurie

Yesterday I explained how to set up Google Analytics new site search feature in five steps.

For that little bit of work, the site search reports provide lots of great data. Here are some of highlights.

After you’ve set up site search, you’ll find a new item under ‘Content’ – ‘Site Search’:

Google Analytics: Content Overview

That displays the site search overview page, which includes this trending summary. You should pay particular attention to the summary, because it’ll show you if something’s going wrong (or right) that’s causing folks to use your search tool less (or more):

Google Analytics: Visits

Visits with Search shows you the total number of visits to your site – not visitors, but visits – when someone used your onsite search tool.

Total Unique Searches is just what it sounds like: The number of actual searches run on your site.

Results Pageviews/Search is the number of pages of search results that your visitors viewed after conducting a search. So, if I do a search and then view 10 pages of search results, that’s 10 results pageviews.

Search Exits are the percentage of folks who leave your site after performing a search. Ouch.

Search Refinements show searches performed immediately following another search. So, if I search for ‘internet marketing’ and then search for ‘internet marketing strategy’ right after that, that’s a refinement.

Time after Search is the amount of time visitors spend on your site after they perform a search. That’s another ouch, in my case.

Search Depth is the number of pages viewed after a search. The third ouch.

My favorite report, though, is the search terms list. On the left, under ‘site search’, click ‘search terms’. You’ll see something like this:

Google Analytics: Search Terms

Neat! Now I can see what terms folks typed into my onsite search tool!

But you can drill deeper than that.

Use the Site Search Start Pages report to see which pages prompted visitors to perform a search. This report’s great if you want to see what topics generate more interest. Then you can click on a specific start page to see searches performed by visitors from that page.

That’s a great insight: You not only know what page your visitor was looking at when they searched – you also know what they wanted to find next. With that, you can construct the ‘scent trails’ you need to lead visitors from their first pageview to a conversion.

Destination Pages shows you where folks ended up after viewing the search results. This can help you figure out if they found what they wanted. If someone exited the site after a search, chances are they left frustrated.

Invaluable Insight

The site search report shows what visitors try to find after they arrive on your web site. It also shows you how they respond to the results of their search. With that, you can:

  • Adjust your search tool to show alternate searches (think of the “did you mean [search term here]” box you can find on Google.
  • Feature content for which visitors most often search.
  • Add new content to fill in gaps revealed by visitor searches.

Set up site search – trust me, you won’t regret it.

If you have any questions about it, post ’em here as a comment.

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Ian Lurie
CEO & Founder

Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent and the EVP of Marketing Services at Clearlink. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). He'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. Follow him on Twitter at portentint, and on LinkedIn at

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  1. Google Analytics Site Search is active now
    Finally, Google Analytics has enable site search and I played with it a little bit on one of my clients sites – I'll check in a day or so to see if I set up the website profile correctly to…

  2. I just starting playing around with the new Google Analytics site search myself and already have some troubleshooting issues with it.
    One question I have is does this work for websites that don’t have a query parameter in the URL that signals the search term? For example, you are on a site and the search page (they don’t have a search box, they have a link to the search page which then has search box) is, you then enter in a term into the search box like desks for example and the resulting search results page is As you can see, no query paramter, does this mean the site search won’t work for this site? I have another site where if you search on the home page, you get a nice URL where you can see the query parameter:…1&pr=tables, but if you search from anywhere else on the site you will get a URL that looks like this:
    I am also seeing in the Destination Pages report (exit) as one of my destination pages. Does this mean people are exiting from another page; but then why it would be listed here separate as another page? I am also seeing (entrance) in my Start Pages report which leads me to a similar question to the one I had for (exit), is this entrances to the site? I don’t get that one because even if a page was an entrance wouldn’t their be a URL for that page??
    Lastly I am seeing my no results returned page as my top Destination Page and my top Start Page which sort of makes a little sense but 620 uniques searches led to this page and it has %0 search exits which doesn’t seem to fly. This doesn’t seem to makes sense to me.
    Anyone else having issues or have answers to these questions? It is a new and exciting feature and I’m sure testing will help answer some of these but Google’s help section isn’t very “helpful.”

  3. Hi Jesse,
    Regarding pages that don’t have a search term in the query string: The page you’re describing probably submits the search phrase in the form scope. If you either switch the form to use ‘get’ instead of ‘post’, or just add the form variable to the query string, you’ll be able to track it.
    The (exit) page means that folks saw the search results page and then exited your site.
    If you can send me a screen capture for the top destination page report I might be able to figure that one out…

  4. Ian –
    I appreciate the reply and the help; hard to find either of those!
    You mentioned “you either switch the form to use ‘get’ instead of ‘post’, or just add the form variable to the query string,” I’m not a programmer by any means but I think I understand what you mean. I took a look at the code for the search form and found this: <form name=”search form” action=”/search/index.php” method=”post”> <input class=”textfield” type=”text” name=”findtext” maxlength=”400”> <input class=”button” type=”submit” value=”search”>. So what would need to be changed here in order for this to work?
    For the (exit), that makes sense to me now, people search on a start page, see the results, and then leave right from the results page signaling an (exit) page…..does that mean when you click on the (exit) page and you see all of those keywords, are those the keywords that triggered results pages and the exit? The (entrance)…that still eludes me.
    Sure I can send a screen capture, shall I email it?
    Thanks for your insight!

  5. Hi Jesse,
    For the form, you’d want to change the ‘method = post’ to ‘method = get’.
    Once you do that, you’ll want to use ‘findtext’ as the query string in Google Analytics.
    PLEASE NOTE that this will depend on how /search/index.php is set up. If it’s built to use a query string variable or form variable, it’ll work fine. I recommend you test it after you change it. Worst case, you can change it right back.
    I believe the (entrance) means someone landed directly on your search page.
    No sales pitch here, but if you’re in a time crunch my agency IS a Google Authorized Analytics Consultant, and we do offer hourly support…. 🙂

  6. Ian,
    I appreciate all of your commentary on these issues, it is extremely hard to find help real-life, technical help with this and I have already subscribed to your blog and added it to my reader. I enjoy your posts and your advice and will definitely keep you in my mind for future consulting!
    Would you like for me to still send you that screen capture to quell your curiousity 😉
    Thanks again

  7. How are you doing? Thank you for this great info. I am using Google Custom Search for my site. I have difficulty in setting search words log using my info from Google Custom Search service. As I am using Google, the parameter value is ‘q’. But I cannot find any info for “post” or “get” method here. I would appreciate it if you could give some tips for setting site word search log for GCS.

  8. You shouldn’t need to find the ‘post’ or ‘get’ method. If you just input ‘q’ as the query term you should be set.

  9. I have installed analytics code in my website but not able to see the report of same.
    what might be the problem.

  10. @pradeep how long ago did you install it? It can take 24-48 hours to start seeing data.
    Also, make sure you’ve got the exact code that GA generated for that specific site. Otherwise you’re sending click data to a different account.

  11. Hey Ian,
    Thank you so much, why because from the past two hours I was searching for “How to know the search terms that what visitors are searching in our site using google custom search and how to track them to optimize our site”. At last I got it now.

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