Internal Search: Why and How
Internal search is the search that is on your website itself. It’s the search widget in WordPress and the product search in WooCommerce. Make no mistake: if your website has over twenty pages, your website should most definitely have that internal search option.
There are a number of best practices for that internal search option, and I’d like to go over these in this post.
Internal search for informational websites
It doesn’t matter if your website is the wikipedia of golden retrievers, or you simply have a blog about your three-year-old. If your website is packed with content, you really want to add that internal search option. The thing is that when someone lands on your website from Google, they are looking for a specific piece of information about a certain subject. When they can’t find it immediately after clicking that link in Google, there are only a few options to prevent that user from clicking back to Google immediately. This would result in a bouncer, telling Google that the specific subject isn’t something it has to rank your website for. Ok, I’m exaggerating, but if this happens again and again, that will be the result.
If your website provides an easy way to find that desired information with just a tiny bit of extra effort, you are immediately raising the chances of people staying on your website. An internal search option is a great way to accomplish this.
Characteristics of a good internal search option
Try to think about that internal search option as a user, not as a website owner or developer. What would you say is required for that search option to work for you? I think there are a few characteristics that work for any visitor:
- It should be visible. If you want people to use that search option, don’t hide it in your website’s footer. Adding it to either the top of your sidebar, or in your header, would be a much better option.
- It should be clear that it’s a search option. Very important. If it’s just an input field without heading, submit button or watermark explaining that it’s a search option, it simply won’t work for the majority of your visitors.
We will emphasize that internal search option even more in our upcoming redesign, by just a subtle emphasize on the magnifier icon:
That already makes a huge difference. But besides that, we have also lifted the internal search option from our sidebar, right in the right side of the menu. The search option is equally important for us as our shopping cart and all main menu items.
Internal search result pages for informational websites
The internal search field is only step one of an internal search option. Step two is the search result page itself. In our reviews, we check a number of characteristics of a search result page:
- The search keyword is highlighted in the search result pages
If you want to decide on what result to click, you’d like to scan the results and quickly click one. Internal search result pages are a means to an end, a tool, not a destination itself. Highlighting the keyword used in search (like Google does), improves scanning these results a lot.
- The search result pages contain text snippets with the keyword
It’s really hard to decide on a result with just the title shown on an internal search result page. There is a reason Google sometimes forgets your suggested meta description and shows a text snippet of your page containing the keyword. It helps your visitor. That goes for internal search results as well.
- Search results are ranked by relevancy
To all you WordPress users out there: WordPress now orders search results by relevance (since 3.7). Make sure to update. That being said, plugins like SearchWP can still help you improve your internal search results a lot, and make you manage that relevance. In the old days, WordPress results where ordered by date (newest content first), which made absolutely no sense. Serve the best result first.
- Internal search results are not indexed by Google
Imagine being a search engine, having the wish to serve your visitors the desired information as soon as possible. Google Knowledge Graph inserts the answer right in your search result pages. Do you think that search engines likes linking to other search result pages? No. Of course not. Next to that Google considers these internal search results lower quality pages than your actual informational pages, it also makes absolutely no sense that your search result pages rank above your category pages on the same subject. These are the pages that matter, these are the pages that should be indexed.
Noindex,followthese internal search result pages.
Valuable data for optimizing your website
There is another major benefit of a good internal search option. It can actually help your keyword research. In Google Analytics, at Behavior › Site Search › Search Terms, you will find all keywords people have used in the internal search option on your website.
Please check your website’s pages for these keywords. Does the right page come up first? A quick check is simply comparing the internal search results to a site search in Google, like:
That’s a match, and the right page to rank for “meta description” on our website. If another page would have come up first, we should have created a new, cornerstone-like page for that keyword. Use this to your advantage; it’s your visitors telling you what kind of content they expect on your website.
Internal Search for Webshops
This is the first one of two posts on internal search. As I mentioned in the introduction of this post, internal search is obviously important for webshops as well. In the second post, I’ll discuss the search option for webshops and add my thoughts on how to improve that internal search option.
Are you leveraging your internal search option? How have you improved your internal search result pages? I’d love to hear your experiences and additional tips in the comments.
Note that if you are not sure if your internal search option and search result pages are optimized for a better user experience, we’d be more than happy to check these in our site reviews. In our Gold Reviews, that are specifically for WordPress websites, we will also provide plugin tips for this if necessary. Of course these tips are only for plugins we have used ourselves.
This post first appeared as Internal Search: Why and How on Yoast. Whoopity Doo!