Book Review: Search Analytics for Your Site

Search Analytics for Your Site, L. Rosenfeld.

ISBN: 1-933820-20-9  (paper)  and  1-933820-04-7 (digital)

Financial services company The Vanguard Group had just purchased a shiny new search engine to improve search for their 12,000 employees. There was only one problem: the search results were worse than what they had before.

John Ferrara, an information architect who had helped select the new search platform, blew the whistle, asking the project to be delayed so that relevancy could be improved before the search engine went live. Unfortunately, he failed to make a convincing case to his IT colleagues.Technically, the new platform was running just fine. Besides, the search vendor undoubtedly new more about this kind of stuff than the internal guys.

But not to be deterred, John Ferrara turned to the search logs. He aggregated the most popular search queries from the old platform and, going down the list one by one, measured two metrics for each: relevancy and precision. To measure relevancy, John typed in the query (“company address”, for instance), and checked to see how far down the best match appeared from position #1. To measure precision, on the other hand, John looked at the top five results for a given query and marked each as either relevant, nearly relevant, misplaced, or irrelevant.  By turning to the data, John was able to convince his colleagues that there was, indeed, a problem. With hands on deck, the team was fortunately able to tune the new search platform before it went live, bringing relevancy and precision up to parity with the old system. Thanks to search analytics, John had saved the team from what could have been a serous blunder.

Lou Rosenfeld opens with this relatable story in his latest book Search Analytics for Your Site: Conversations with Your Customers. The book is a very practical guide on how to exploit query logs to improve your company’s search experience. Lou outlines a collection of simple but potent techniques for analyzing search logs, spotting insightful patterns, and putting those insights to use.

As mentioned in the Vanguard story, Lou demonstrates the value of understanding users’ most common queries. But he also goes much further. From studying failure situations (which queries lead to zero results), to session data (who searched what when), audience segmentation, and goal-based analysis (using key performance indicators), Search Analytics presents a sweeping collection of techniques for turning search logs into an organizational goldmine.

And if those techniques weren’t practical enough already, Lou ends the book with a comprehensive list of tips for using search data to improve your website’s search, content, navigation, and metadata.

Search Analytics is well-written, to the point, and does what it says on the tin. The author is authoritative — he wrote Information Architecture for the World Wide along with Peter Morville — as well as experienced, having consulted for companies such as PayPal, Caterpillar, Ford, and others. I was able to put into practice techniques I learned within days of first picking up the book. If you in anyway share responsibility for search in your organization, this book is well worth your time. I highly recommend it.

About Tyler Tate
Tyler Tate

Tyler Tate is the cofounder of Twigkit—a Cambridge-based software company that provides tools for rapidly building search-based applications. He is also coauthor of Designing the Search Experience, and has written articles for the likes of A List Apart, Boxes & Arrows, UX Matters, and UX Magazine. In the past Tyler led design at Nutshell CRM, designed an enterprise content management system, ran a small design studio, and taught a university course on web design. He blogs at, and tweets as @tylertate.

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