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Another Research Tool (Book Review)

Book CoverA review of
Search Analytics for Your Site
By Louis Rosenfeld
Rosenfeld Media, 2011

In 2006, Louis Rosenfeld played an influential role in the establishment of the art of information architecture when he co-authored Information Architecture for the World Wide Web. Fast forward to 2011 and he is setting the stage once again for the underutilized, yet remarkably enlightening and impactful research method of search site analytics (SSA). Search site analytics is the analysis of user search queries on a website, and, as Rosenfeld explains in Search Analytics for Your Site, is a powerful research tool because it tells you what your users want in their own words without the biases sometimes introduced by other research methods.

Over the course of the eleven easy-to-digest chapters of Search Analytics for Your Site, Rosenfeld addresses the following questions:

  • What is SSA and why haven’t I heard about it?
  • Why should I care about SSA and who should be responsible for SSA?
  • How do I analyze and use SSA data?
  • How is SSA different from search engine optimization?
  • How can I use SSA to foster collaboration in the workplace among qualitative and quantitative research professionals?

In Chapters 1 and 2, Rosenfeld clarifies that the goal in using SSA is not only to learn how users interact with your website, but also to discover what they want and don’t want to see on your site and “the tone and flavor they use to express those needs.” Furthermore, SSA provides data that can be used to discover design flaws, inspire change, validate designs, and benchmark user performance. As in all user experience research, SSA is best used in combination with other methods.

After explaining what SSA is and its many benefits, Rosenfeld moves on, in Chapters 3-7, to review five ways to analyze SSA data. These include: pattern analysis, failure analysis, session analysis, audience analysis, and goal-based analysis. Ultimately, company goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) should influence which of these five options to utilize.

Chapters 8-10 provide practical tips on how to use SSA findings to enhance the user experience of a website. While Chapter 8 discusses using SSA data to boost a site’s overall search experience, Chapter 9 addresses how SSA can guide site architecture, while Chapter 10 summarizes how to use SSA data to improve site content. I found Rosenfeld’s discussion in Chapter 10—regarding how to use SSA to motivate one’s marketing department to bid adieu to unnecessary and confusing jargon—to be particularly insightful.

Finally, in Chapter 11, Rosenfeld thoughtfully argues in support of web analytics professionals (who usually focus on what people are doing) and user researchers (who typically address questions of why people do what they do) teaming up in analyzing SSA data. According to Rosenfeld, collaboration is key because, “it’s not much use to know what is happening if you don’t know why. Conversely, it’s not much use to understand why things are happening when you don’t understand what they were in the first place.” Chapter 11 concludes with several suggestions on how to encourage these research groups to work together, and an explanation of how SSA can be helpful in this pursuit.

I have to admit that when asked to write a review of Search Analytics for Your Site, I was a bit hesitant. My experiences in the past with web analytics books were that they were tedious reads whose content didn’t always translate into workplace practices. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was not at all the case with Rosenfeld’s book. No matter what your background—user experience researcher, marketer, product manager, analytics guru—this book will provide valuable insight regarding SSA in a practical, straightforward, and enjoyable means. I especially appreciate the book’s ample real-world examples, which bring to life Rosenfeld’s explanations and provide enough detail to guide one’s own SSA projects. I also like that each chapter stands on its own two feet—you can use the book’s content to take action within your organization prior to reading the book in its entirety.

Don’t forget to check out the companion website for Search Analytics for Your Sitewhere Rosenfeld provides additional content and has graciously made the book’s diagrams and illustrations available under a Creative Common license.

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