There are two broad types of data you can collect about visits to your site. "Behavioral" data is about what visitors actually do on the site, while "attitudinal" data is about what visitors want to do. Both are valuable sources of information, and they complement each other in many ways. While Google Analytics is primarily a behavioral analytics tool, it does capture some attitudinal data in the form of on-site search usage. After all, when users perform a search on your site, they are articulating — in their words — exactly what it is they are searching for.
Setting Up Google Analytics to Track On-site Search
Google Analytics tracks on-site searches by looking for URLs that have a search parameter in them. That search parameter will vary from site to site, so you have to tell Google Analytics what that parameter is. If you do not already know what parameter is used by your site-search engine, a simple trick is to go to your site and search for a very unique word — I like to use “foobar.” Then, inspect the URL of the resulting page. The exact structure of the URL varies from site to site, but it will be easy to find the unique word in it.
In the first example below, the "query parameter" used for search is “s.” In the second example, it’s “q.” It doesn’t have to be a single letter, and there may be other query parameters besides the keyword in the URL.
Here is the URL for Practical eCommerce.
Once you have identified the query parameter for your on-site search results, you can follow the simple steps on the Google Analytics support page for setup and configuration of the tool.
Viewing and Interpreting Site Search Data
Once you have Google Analytics set up to track site searches, you will be able to access a number of useful reports. The best place to start is the "Search Terms" report, available in the navigation at Content > Site Search > Search Terms.
The default view for the report below shows the number of unique searches for each term in the selected time period.
Expand the list beyond the top 10 and scan the list. These are terms visitors are entering in the search box when they visit your site, so they are an indication of visitors who arrived at the site with a clear purpose in mind. Are there any surprises when you review this report?
While there are other metrics provided in the report — "Results Pageviews/Search," "%Search Exits," and "% Search Refinements" — don’t get hung up on interpreting these metrics unless you are trying to answer a very specific question where they might help. Rather, focus on the search terms themselves and think through whether your site is likely meeting the needs of the visitors who entered those words in the search box.