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I just finished listening to epipod 16 (yes it is a lame term, but if I can help it become mainstream we can all be lame together along with Alan and Andrew) from The Marketer’s Podcast. Alan and Andrew are two marketers from Australia and their podcast is one of the only shows I listen to on a regular basis, usually when I go for walks in the afternoon. The 16th show featured an interview with the CEO of a search engine services company, called SLI-Systems, which specialises in providing internal search for websites.
The main point to take away from the podcast is the value of internal search as a market research tool. Take for example this blog. It has a search box in the top right corner that no doubt is used to find specific content hidden away in the archives in this blog. I have no idea which search terms are being pumped into that search box. If I did I would have a nice list of keywords that people come searching for when visiting my blog. I complain about lacking a definition of my niche and knowing which search terms, i.e. the needs of my visitors, would go a long way towards helping me further refine my niche(s).
Apply this to e-commerce sites and you have a powerful tool for researching what your website visitors are looking for. Based on internal search data you can ensure the products your visitors are most often searching for are available from the front page of your site. Take this a step further and you can use internal search data for creating pay per click advertising campaigns, refining your keyword lists and providing inspiration for new keyword campaigns. It’s clear that if you have enough content on a website you can benefit from internal search data, it’s just as good as external search data (although different) and anything you can do to help pinpoint exactly what your customers want is valuable. Plus of course from the user experience a good search engine helps with website usability for your visitors as well.
I have a little experience with internal search service providers and listening to this podcast has made me wonder whether there is plugin for WordPress that allows you to collect data on the searches taking place using the WordPress search function. I have experience with one free service called Atomz that I installed on MTGParadise.com and is still functioning, albeit with text ads supporting it now. The Atomz free service allows you to place an internal search function on your site but it will only index a certain number of pages with the free service, you have to upgrade for it to index your full site (at least that was the deal a few years ago). It does provide a list of the keyword phrases users are searching so it can provide the data you need as an online marketer and it’s reasonably easy to install, at least for webmaster-types.
Google also has widely popular internal search service, which provides a copy-and-paste solution to have Google index based internal search on a domain and a pay-for enterprise option for companies of any size. I am not that familiar with Google’s offerings since I’ve only briefly dabbled with it back when I was working as a web designer for the University of Queensland, but as far as I know it does not provide any keyword feedback. No doubt you will also find countless free and almost free scripts out there that will provide some form of internal search and the other big players like Yahoo! and MSN also have internal search related offerings. The most important thing is that the search works well for visitors and provides you with the necessary keyword data.
Web search as a component of online market research can be a powerful tool for any web business. Besides the obvious end usability benefits, the data collected directly from your visitors is invaluable, acting similar to a survey, offering real time feedback direct from your audience. Best of all you don’t have to tempt your visitors with prizes or free giveaways to encourage participation – internal search is driven by consumer wants – which is perfect for commerce.