Book Review: Search Analytics for Your Site

Lou Rosenfeld is the founder and publisher of Rosenfeld Media and also the co-author (with Peter Morville) of the best-selling book Information architecture for the World Wide Web, which is considered one of the best books about information management.

In Lou Rosenfeld’s latest book he lets us know how to successfully work with Site Search Analytics (SSA). With SSA you analyse the saved search logs of what your users are searching for to try to find emerging patterns. This information can be a great help to figure out what users want and need from your site.  The search terms used on your site will offer more clues to why the user is on your site compared to search queries from Google (which reveal how they get to your site).

So what’s in the book?

Part I – Introducing Site Search Analytics

In part one the reader gets a great example of why to use SSA and an introduction to what SSA is. In the first chapters you follow John Ferrara who worked at a company called Vanguard and how he analysed search logs to prove that a newly bought search engine performed poorly whilst using the same statistics to improve it. This is a great real world example of how to use SSA for measuring quality of search AND to set up goals for improvement.

a word cloud is one way to play with the data

Part II – Analysing the data

In this part Lou gets hands on with user logs and lets you how to analyse the data. He makes it fun and emphasizes the need to play with user data. Without emphasis on playing, the task to analyse user data may seem daunting. Also, with real world examples from different companies and institutions it is easy to understand the different methods for analysis. Personally, I feel the use of real data in the book makes the subject easier (and more interesting) to understand.

From which pages do users search?

Part III – Improving your site

In the third part of the book, Rosenfeld shows how to apply your findings during your analysis. If you’ve worked with SSA before most of it will be familiar (improving best bets, zero hits, query completion and synonyms) but even for experienced professionals there is good information about how to improve everything from site navigation to site content and even to connect your ssa to your site KPI’s.

ConclusionSearch Analytics For Your Site shows how easy it is to get started with SSA but also the depth and usefulness of it. This book is easy to read and also quite funny. The book is quite short which in this day and age isn’t negative. For me this book reminded me of the importance of search analytics and I really hope more companies and sites takes the lessons in this book to heart and focuses on search analytics.

Get to Know Your Users with Search Analytics

At Findwise we are currently looking deeply into search analytics for enterprise search, a way not only to assure quality and relevance for your results, but to actually know and understand the users better.

Web analytics has been around for quite some time, but there are several things that makes search special.

There are simple ways to look at ‘top queries’ (most frequently asked), ‘zero-results-hits’ (which of course can be a result of bad spelling, but many times by lack of information) and popular searches over time (for trends etc), ‘Top queries’ can be fixed by static tools, bad spelling by good spell-checking and lack of information by synonyms and adding the missing pieces. But I believe we are missing something important here:

When a user conducts a search, he is using it to either:

  • find a specific piece of information or
  • find more and/or related information about a topic
  • but, by doing so, he might find information that brings new perspectives such as:
  • information he didn’t know existed

The process of search should always be a dialogue between the user and the search application. Simple: The ‘what‘-questions always have to lead to the ‘why‘-questions.
The users doesn’t type a query for fun, they have an intention when doing so. Why do the user ask for a particular piece or area of information? Depending on the intention of the user (specific piece, related or general information), different tools can be used to enhance information retreival.

Done right, search analytics can be used for tuning your search engine (weighting of documents, improvements of spellchecking, synonyms etc) and clearly improve information retrieval, but just as important, work as a tool for information quality assurance and management.

Within the next couple of weeks this blog will cover further aspects and thoughts on this subject. If you haven’t read Maria’s ‘What differentiates a good search engine from a bad one?’ already, I recommend you to do so.