Tracking Website Search Terms with Google Analytics
Tracking what people search for on your site via Google Analytics has a number of advantages beyond simply capturing an additional interaction with your website.
Configuring your account to track "on site search" is relatively straightforward requiring a tweak to your Google Analytics view settings. A separate post will explain how to set this up. Note that you can also configure your account to capture search categories to provide additional insight (for example think of a search on an e-commerce site where you can choose DVDs or Books as a product category).
Once set up you'll find the reports within the Behaviour section of your account (see Behaviour / Site Search).
Google describes words or phrases used to search your website as "search terms" - as opposed to "keywords" - the terms used in search engines to find your site via organic search.
Search terms can be helpful in understanding the motivation behind visits to your site, can show topics of interest to your audience and the levels of interest in such content. Search Terms can also suggest ideas for new content - potentially to feed into an ongoing content marketing strategy as part of an SEO campaign.
Check first to see the extent to which site search is being used. The Site Search / Overview report will show you the percentage of people performing searches on your site.
Bear in mind that if only a very small proportion of your visitors actually use the search function then you'll need to be careful about working with a small sample size. Conversely if a large percentage perform searches then you may need to use the report filter field to aggregate related searches to make sense of the data.
Search terms can also sometimes suggest issues with your site.
For example for a navigation led site (as opposed to a large online store where search is expected) if a large number of people are searching for a particular topic it may suggest issues with your navigational structure with people struggling to find content. It may be worth checking the "Search Terms / Pages" report here (the pages where a search was initiated from) to identify whether there are particular areas of your site that need looking at.
Where content does exist look out also for searches for misspellings or word variants with either a high search exit rate (the percentage of people immediately exiting your site after a search) or search refinements (another refined search occurring after the first). This can sometimes indicate issues with your website search engine being unable to cope with word variants or misspellings.