Over the past few weeks I have been blessed with a plethora of Web analytic data to mine and analyze. Although some of you may want to stop reading here, I promise this is not about data mining, but more about a typically missed listening channel.

While scanning through endless analytic accounts, I started to notice a trend of a piece of data missing in each site’s analytic data. This is where the data analysis guys/gals typically start to throw up their arms and walk out the door. So instead of doing that, I decided to sit down and write this article with the hopes of helping you gain lost insights and a better perspective of what your visitors are telling you.

No matter what you read or who you talk to in online marketing today, social media is the first topic that seems to comes up. Social media is the new channel on the block, and everyone is scrambling to take full advantage of it as a business tool. The first thing that comes up when you start researching social media marketing for your business is to use it as a listening tool. There are so many other articles out there that we probably don’t need to expound on that here.

If you continue your research past the listening phase, you will find that a vast majority of people suggest social media as being another channel to direct visitors to your main website. The reason we want visitors to come to our website: that is where most of our primary business goals are located. What’s interesting is that a lot of business owners stop the listening process once the visitor gets to their site. There is still one very powerful tool that a website can have for listening – an internal search form, also known as site search.

What is site search? Site search is an area which takes in your visitor’s typed input and produces a results page of available pages in your site that might match their searched term. You might think of site search as a helper for finding specific pages; so why would we care what our visitors are searching for? While the site search’s main purpose is to help the visitor, it is also providing an open communication channel which you should be listening on. The case may be that a visitor can’t find something easily, some product or service they would like to purchase but can not locate or it can be just about anything that your visitor expects they will receive help with while visiting your site.

The next step in gathering these wonderful tidbits of information is setting up the tools to collect the information. Google Analytics provides the easiest solution to this problem. Most websites already have Analytics installed and collecting the search queries is as simple as enabling it in your Google Analytics profile. You can utilize your Analytics to glean even more information.

On top of collecting data in a timely manner, it will also tell you if the visitor left after doing a search (they couldn’t find what they wanted), if they tried to refine their search (these visitors really want to do business with you), along with the rest of the Google Analytic standard metrics. Once the monitoring tools are set up you can collect all the phrases visitors are using on your site search and start listening.

Let’s go to a real life situation since all this theory can be hard to translate into real money in your pocket. We have been tracking and “listening” to the site search on a website for months. Over the past few months we found the top searches conducted were for business hours and locations. This is a very typical thing if you are a brick and mortar store. There were a lot of visitors searching for this information, and it was the highest searched item in our search phrase reports. We knew that something had to change.

We got together and discussed how we could place the hours of operation right on the main area and a quick link to the locations finder page. What happened over the next few months? We saw a drop in searches for those items and saw a huge increase in the number of visits to the locations page! This was huge – our site visitors told us what they wanted and we were listening. We reacted to their problems, which no one knew about until we started monitoring. We changed the site to fit their needs and saw more visitors looking up locations. We quickly learned how insightful our visitors’ search phrases could be and continued with the cycle of listening and reacting.

We all know that potential customers will not just pick up a phone and call with a problem, but they will try to help themselves. Once they fail will move on…hopefully not to your competitor. The tracking of site search queries allows us to hear their issues and react, so our business becomes the best choice for them and others in the future. Listening to your visitor search phrases can lead to more insights than just website navigation issues.

Visitors construct their searches on a site search bar just like a search engine. This gives you an idea of how your visitors are composing searches. That information can lead to SEO changes, paid search keyword changes, or even content adjustments to help in better capturing the online segments that fit your site. Also watch for types of products or services visitors are looking for from you. There could be searches for a product or service that you don’t sell and through the site search your visitors are telling you that they would like to buy this product from you. It make might sense for your business to include this product and capture even more customers.

Every site is marketing to a different segment and each site’s search queries have to be analyzed appropriately and uniquely for the business. As online marketers and business owners, our first step is to listen to our audience at hand. Tracking your site’s search queries is a great listening channel and one that can help you with issues or give insights for the future.

Eric Patterson is a developer for MINDSCAPE at Hanon McKendry. He is also a Google Analtyics qualified individual.