How Is Search Data Different from Clickstream Data?

Search analytics introduces some qualitative data from the search term coupled with many quantitative data points in the form of click-through rates, traffic volume, conversion rates, and more.

You can get some insight into users’ intent and decision-making processes by looking at groups of search terms as qualitative data points. For example, if a user comes to your site from three different search terms, looking at those terms may show some of the decision making that has occurred. For instance, if the search pattern looks like “ACME widgets”→“ACME widget reviews”→“ACME widget sale”, we can see that the user started out looking for a product, was then influenced by the reviews, and then looked for a discounted price. You can further amplify this qualitative data with site surveys. By bringing together qualitative data and quantitative data, we can start to get a better idea of the intent of our users, and optimize their experience.

Qualitative data measures behavior and the reasons driving that behavior. For example, surveys and questionnaires can provide qualitative data; in our case, this may also come from search parameter patterns over repeat sessions.

Quantitative data is numerical data. Examples of this are the number of visits to a website, or the number of people who purchase a product.

Clickstream data measures the actions users take on your website by tracking what and where they click.

You can get better ideas of “intent patterns” through search when you merge your external search data with your on-site search data. Perhaps many users come to your site through branded terms, meaning words that are specific to only your brand. An example of this would be a search for “iPhone”: that is specific to Apple, and there is a brand association there. When users show up from a branded term, what secondary searches do they perform on your site?

Have you enabled your clickstream analytics to capture the referring search terms and the associated site search terms? Are you recognizing that many users who come to your site on branded terms are looking for a specific product? Or perhaps there are a great number of support searches. If you have paid for the click-through SEM, maximize the value by learning what users are looking for and develop landing pages to bring this needed information closer to the user. In the case of SEO, you cannot always dictate what page will rank, but you can improve your site’s general navigation to include links to these deeper pages. Recognizing your customers’ needs and providing content that helps them will in the long run also help improve your business.

Search also gives you insight into the language of your customers. The goal of keyword research is to understand the language landscape of the search engines. What are the search volumes like, and how competitive are other sites on these terms? This is data that can be fed to other marketing channels. Why not apply this keyword research to your email deployments or your in-store flyers, bringing online and offline insights together to create subject lines and in-store banners with the language customers use?

When we talk about branded versus nonbranded words, I see all too often a confusion with internal versus external language. Internally you may want to call your product “the super best product ever!” while users may simply call it “widget.” Unless you have the dollars and branding resources to get people to change their language, you may need to recognize that it is easier to get people to think about your product by creating at least a small word association to the word “widget.” Ignoring the elephant in the room and calling your product anything but may result in people not having that “ah ha!” moment and realizing that your widget is really also “the super best product ever.” Search is as much about measuring word use and linguistic needs as it is about measuring clicks, inbound links, and other data points.

Beyond these factors, SEO has unique challenges in that all the major search engines operate as black boxes. The search engines do not let anyone know the recipe for their secret sauce, or in this case the algorithm that makes them run. To better understand these algorithms, SEO specialists have had to try to reverse engineer them. It’s also important to understand that each engine runs different algorithms—for example, Bing runs a different algorithm than Google. Each engine’s algorithm is proprietary to that engine; in some cases, other engines may lease these algorithms (as Yahoo! now leases Bing’s algorithm), but each major algorithm will have its own quirks and issues to test against.

The best way to reverse engineer something such as a search algorithm is to look at data points, examining them to try to determine which return positive feedback and which return negative feedback. Analytics help take a lot of the guesswork out of the SEO’s job.

Search analytics is not just about measuring traffic delivered, but also about landing page optimization (LPO) and conversion rate optimization (CRO). LPO is focused on retaining and moving people through your site; it acknowledges that not everyone comes to your site through the home page. You typically start by optimizing your highvolume entry pages and work down from there. CRO is focused on moving people through a funnel to a goal. This conversion may occur over several visits as part of the overall life cycle and decision-making process of purchasing a product. CRO takes into account the stages of this process and the needs of a user to help that user make a decision as quickly as possible.

A search strategy is not concerned simply with delivering traffic to a site; it must take into consideration the handoff of that traffic, as well as the pathing of that traffic to each goal and objective. Site search also helps facilitate the measurement of on-site navigation issues and needs. Think about moving beyond measuring traffic volume, and measuring business objectives and goals. Think about measuring to improve those objectives and goals.



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