Most of you will have noticed that the organic keyword data provided by Google Analytics has been gradually fading away and replaced by the token ‘not provided’.
This was introduced after Google announced that it was taking measures to protect personalised search, which basically meant that it would no longer be providing keyword data for users who were signed into Google.
This all started towards the end of 2011, but began snowballing in August 2013. After looking at 5 of our clients (with websites of all sizes), it became clear that they all saw a similar increase in the percentage of ‘not provided’ results throughout 2013, with a steep rise between August and September.
However, just as we were beginning to lose all hope for the future of keyword data in Analytics, Google launched an update in its Webmaster tools platform that appears to be giving some of our keyword data back.
Google Webmaster Tools > Search Queries
It is now possible to see your top keywords by exact impressions and clicks, as well as your top visited web pages with a drilldown to display the keywords that were used to find them. While some of this data has always been available, the significant thing about this update is that we can now see precise traffic volumes against the keywords, giving us a more accurate picture of what’s going on.
As you can see below, a black line has appeared in the search query timeline which represents the change, with a note “An improvement to our top search queries data was applied retroactively on 12/31/13”
You can also see that by selecting the ‘Top Pages’ tab, you can expand each URL to show the keywords that users used to find that page (thanks to Barry schwartz for the images)
There are other ways to extract keyword data from Google Analytics, and the on-site search feature is a great example of this.
Many websites have their own internal search facility, allowing visitors to search through the content based on a keyword or phrase. While we often try to make it easy for users to find pages within sites by use of navigation, on-site search can help to fill in the gaps, and some of your users will naturally be drawn to carry out a search.
GA provides us with the means to track keywords from on-site search, giving you access to some extremely useful keyword data that is exclusive to your website, so you can to tap into your visitors’ search habits to find out exactly what they are looking for.
Some of the Benefits
This is useful for a number of reasons, as it allows you to:
- Find gaps in your content/categories or product range, where a search returns no results
- Get a better understanding of what search terms are used by your customers/visitors so that you can further optimise your pages to ensure they are as relevant as possible
- Test your search results based on your top keywords to make sure that they are relevant
- Spot common spelling errors and add in redirects to send users to the correct landing page or results page
- Control the user journey by tailoring the results based on specific keywords
Tracking on-site search in Analytics is a feature that I find isn’t used enough, so if you don’t have this enabled then make sure you add it to your to-do list.
Setting up Site Search Tracking
It’s very easy to set up, but first you need to decide how best to provide your keywords to Google, and this may vary depending on your website functionality.
There are two options to choose from:
Most websites use dynamic URLs to handle searches, which are unique URLs that include the keywords that were searched, associating them to a specific search parameter. In this case, we can simply add this search parameter to Google Analytics, which will point out the keywords that you want to track.
For example, if I was looking for information on Council tax in Oxford, I would go to the oxford.gov website and use the on-site search facility to search for ‘council tax’. Below you can see that the search page is displayed and the URL reflects my search.
The URL includes my search query, which is assigned to the parameter ‘sitesearch_search’.
To capture this keyword data, simply open your GA account, Click the Admin Tab, and then under ‘View’, select ‘View Settings’.
Next, scroll to the bottom of the page and under ‘Site Search Setting’, set the ‘Site Search Tracking’ to ‘On’, and then enter your query parameter(s) into the box below. In the Oxford.gov case you would add ‘sitesearch_search’.
It is also possible to remove the parameters from the reports in GA, by ticking the ‘Strip query parameters out of URL’ box.
If you want to go one step further, you can also enter extra parameters to allow Analytics to identify which search categories are chosen by your visitors. Again, you can opt to have the parameters taken out of your GA reports.
The next option may be more suitable for those of you who don’t use dynamic search URLs. The content updates to reflect the search, but the URL remains the same.
The keyword data can be captured by customising the tracking codes on your search results pages. This requires you to create a virtual page path within the code that includes the keyword that was searched and assigns it to a parameter, without needing to display it on the page or within the URL.
For more information on how to set on-site search up, head over to Google Support.
One last tip – you may or may not use dynamic URLs to handle your searches but, if you do, it’s important to remember that whenever you have a unique URL, you potentially have a page that can be crawled and indexed by the search engines.
Google doesn’t look too kindly on ‘thin’ content (pages with very little content that add no real value to the web), so it is advised that you prevent the search engines from indexing your results pages. This can be done via your robots.txt file; by placing the ‘noindex’ tag on all search pages, and even within ‘URL parameters’ under the ‘Crawl’ section in Google Webmaster Tools.
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