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E-Marketing Performance Blog

Analyzing Customer Search Sessions to Learn What They’re Thinking

Site search helps you find out what customers are thinkingSo far, we’ve looked at pattern analysis and failure analysis as ways you can use your internal site search data to improve your website (which you should be doing!).  But, there’s more than just search queries to look at.  There are also search sessions that you may be able to look into for more insights.  A search session occurs when a searcher executes multiple queries in one session while trying to address a single information need.  As they interact with your search results and content, it should tell you a lot about how your site is servicing them.

Gain Insight Into the Searcher’s True Need

The catch here is that you will need data collected from your site that helps identify who searched and when they searched so that you can do some session parsing.  If you are able to sort by user ID and time, you should be able to see all of the searches they performed during a session to gain insight into what the user was thinking.  This takes you to a new level of analyzing by looking beyond just queries to how searchers refine them and how their information needs change as they perform multiple searches.  This gives you more insight into the searcher’s true need than by just looking at individual queries.  You can piece together all of the searches to get inside the mind of the searcher to understand his need and how it changes as he interacts with search results and content.

What’s a Session?

It can be difficult to determine what a single “session” is.  A good rule of thumb to follow is this: a “session” is the activity of searching for a single type of information within a specific time period.  It’s important to define it this way so that you don’t cross over sessions where information needs have changed and the user has moved on from their original information search.  Therefore, you must define a session’s time block and make sure the queries in the time block appear to be related to consider analyzing the session.  No matter what, you should determine the parameters of your analysis within the context in which users are interacting with your site.  Here is what a common search session might look like…

You can see here that the same user made a series of very similar queries within a short period of time.  It’s these kinds of sessions that can help you learn how your site search is being used and how to improve the search experience and your content.

Session Types That Matter

As is usually the case with web data, you can find yourself swimming in an overwhelming amount of it.  Therefore, you’ll want to focus in on session types that matter.  Like these…

  • Sessions that include most frequent queries – Are they at the beginning, middle or end of the searcher’s session?  How does that make a difference?  What does it mean?
  • Sessions that include an interesting query type – The context of your site will determine these.  They may be names, titles, product IDs, date, departments, etc.
  • Sessions that end in failure – Look for patterns that signify resulting failure.

Metadata and Personas

A big barrier to successful metadata is content owners using terms that are too broad.  Look for the phrases that get people to what they want.  This helps inform those who apply metadata to your site’s content to use the same level of granularity.  Also, you’ll get insight into phrases that you should be targeting with your SEO and PPC efforts.

Lastly, if you are able to collect searcher ID demographics like age, profession, etc., you can use their search sessions to get insight into their minds to help develop your customer personas.

You can see just how much you can do with a little bit of information that takes you inside the mind of your target customer.  SSA provides you with great data to be able to do this.

Mike Fleming

Michael Fleming

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