Mine your search logs for content ideas and direction

Your search logs provide great information for developing new content, clarifying and improving current content, and refining your pay per click campaigns. This is true for a blog or a website.

Where to find your search logs

Any analytics program will have a report on terms visitors used to find your site. In Google Analytics you’ll find the terms people used to find your site under Traffic Sources | Keywords. Some programs will also report on terms searched using your site search tool. If you’re using the Google site search engine on your site, uou’ll find those queries under Content | Site Search. Google Webmaster Tools will also give you a list of search queries. Bing Webmaster Center does not (although it provides information on backlinks, which is nice.)

Google Webmaster Tool provides this helpful summary of what it finds to be your top keywords. You’ll want to pay attention to it, too.

screenshot from Google Webmaster Tools
Google Webmaster Tools

If you’re in a large organization you might have to speak with someone in IT to get access to search reports for your site. If your subdomain or section of the larger site has its own search function, be sure to ask for searches on your section of the site and for any section related to yours. You want to know if people in a related section are actually wanting your content and just got lost. For example, if you’re a college within a university, you might want to see searches on the admissions or library sites.

Content ideas

If you write a blog, you need as many content ideas as possible and you’re bound to find a few in your logs. Look for the longer set of terms. These are often long tail searches that don’t produce a lot of search results. I found an odd one on my personal blog site: age 32 eyelashes growing gray. I’m not sure why my site turned up for those terms, but if I wrote on topics about health or aging I’d know I could write a post about premature graying (or perceived premature graying.)

Search queries are also often written as complete questions to which you can respond. An example: does cutting holes in a shipping container weaken them. You might want to watch for these type of question queries if you’re creating or editing an FAQ.

The next step is to look at how people using these search terms behaved. For the eyelash example above I see a 100% bounce rate. I know that the searcher didn’t find anything of interest on my site. I’m a little concerned that the searcher for amount 0f liquid morphine to overdose did stay on my site. I might want to go back and re-read my postings on outdated medical advice to be sure I don’t have anything posted that would assist with a suicide.

Analytics screenshot showing keywords and their metricsLook at search terms where you have low bounce rates, high pages per visit, and high time on site numbers. This can give you a sense of what content is sticky enough to engage your visitors. You might want to expand on the concepts that surround these search terms.

It will also give you an idea of terms bringing you visitors, but where you don’t have the quality of content to keep them on your site. In the example above, if I wanted to sell videos featuring children’s rhymes, I might want to consider writing new copy. But first I’d run that search myself, locate the page that comes up in results, and then check on the overall performance of that page. It could be that people searching for choosing rhymes just wanted the words to “One Potato Two.” In that case I might want to consider adding a new section to my site that features words or lyrics to common children’s poems and rhymes. Or adding something similar to my Facebook page or adding a space where people could vote for favorite rhymes they sang as a child.

Look for interesting topics showing up. You can use these insights to guide your social media discussions. If people are searching for something unexpected, ask your community for their thoughts. Are the searches you’re seeing for pink outdoor paint reflecting a trend among designers, for example?

Site search terms are a great place to locate synonyms you might want to use in your copy. They might even give you an idea of what type of people are not seeing the terms they expect. For example, someone might be searching for plantain lily when you always refer to that plant as a hosta.

Site fixes

You have a few choices to make when you see synonyms you’re not using in your content turn up in your logs.

  1. If you have access to the search appliance, add that term and your preferred synonym to the thesaurus or create a keymatch term. Or ask your IT staff if they can make this update to your search tool for you. You want to be sure that someone searching for plantain lily sees search results as if they searched for hosta.
  2. Review your navigation. If people are using your site search to find pages that should be easily accessible from your navigation, you know you need to do some user testing. If you’re in an industry which uses a lot of jargon and you might find these synonyms to be worth testing with your desired audiences to see if they are better recognized or understood. Using your audience’s language is always preferred.
  3. Look at your page headings and titles in terms of terms that are showing up. Are you using these same terms or keywords? How about in your meta descriptions?

Search engine marketing

Google AdWords report option

If you are seeing terms in a search query report that have absolutely nothing to do with your product or service, add them to  your keywords as negative keywords. That way you won’t be paying for clicks on hickory switch when you only sell hickory nuts.

Check your keyword reports to see which keywords are showing good conversions and consider expanding your content around those terms. Again, look at those long search phrases for the long tail keywords to exploit.

You might also spot a few keywords in your logs that you’ll want to add to the keywords you bid on in your advertising.

You might even find a clue to a small niche market under-served by you or your competitors.

Plus, looking through these logs can be entertaining. You might be surprised by the odd things people search for. Just remember that if you’re looking at your own site’s search logs, there will always be a few searches by people thinking they are searching the entire web universe. They didn’t really think you’d have world cup soccer scores on your farm equipment sales site. But the search for bunny fur hair dye remover might be legitimate.

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