Search Experience Metrics

Key Indicators You Should Be Tracking for Customer Search Experience

July 6, 2006

There are four customer outcomes that can’t be achieved without great site search, and customers have stringent requirements for search effectiveness. Those requirements map directly to four key performance indicators for search effectiveness and search value we’ve identified. We also offer a set of operational metrics that will direct and monitor your efforts to improve the search-driven KPIs.


A great search experience (SX) is the foundation for an adequate customer experience (CX). A great search experience swiftly delivers the information the customer needs in order to achieve his outcome. Search may involve typing terms into a site search box and/or clicking on navigation links that are offered on a site. It may begin with search on Google or Yahoo!. It ends with reading the desired information, whether from a Web page or from a downloaded document.

Customers’ top four search-driven outcomes are these:

* Find the product I need
* Find the resolution to my problem or question
* Support my research and education
* Connect me with the offers you are making

Our work with customers across many industries repeatedly surfaces this metric: Customers want to connect with the information they need within five minutes. This number holds for selecting and buying a gift, checking a supplier’s knowledge base for known problems, and reaching the landing page for a topic being researched.

That’s right, five minutes. There are two reasons you may be feeling queasy right now. First, you know it takes longer than five minutes for customers to reach the information they need. Second, you don’t actually know how long it takes, or even what percentage of customers are successful. And you have even less information about how to shorten the time.

We offer our recommendations on what proxy measurements you should use as key performance indicators, as well as the operational metrics that will help you identify and track improvements to search experience.


In online customer experience, great search experience (SX) is critical to delivering even an adequate customer experience (CX). The search experience encompasses Internet search, site search, and site navigation. Search connects your customers with your products, your campaigns, resolutions to problems, and education. Whether it begins at, your site search box, or a click on a navigation link on your Web site, the experience must swiftly reach the end result: the information that enables customers to achieve their outcomes.

How Customers Measure Their Experience

We’ve been helping companies design their customer metrics for more than a decade. After delving into customer experience with hundreds of companies and thousands of customers, we can pretty much guarantee that your customers’ top metric for CX is how long it takes to get what they need. Their next most important metric is how confident they feel in the result. If their outcome is not swiftly reached, then they need to have confidence in the process: They need reassurance that continued effort on their part will deliver results.

The Real SX Metric

Hits, conversion rates, number of unique visits, number of searches, revenue per search, and search response times are potentially useful for understanding what is going on, but in terms of the customer’s search experience, they mean little. We don’t believe that any of these measurements can be used to judge the quality of the search experience or the quality of the customer experience.

In search-driven customer experiences, the real SX metric is how quickly the customer is connected to the information he needs. This can be measured in elapsed time, number of clicks, or both. Unfortunately, it is rarely possible to measure how long it takes your customer to reach his outcome, or how long it takes to glean the information he needs in order to reach his outcome. We don’t know what each customer’s desired outcome is, or where his starting point is. So we don’t know what information he needs to reach his goal. Often, neither does he, a fact which injects further noise into the measurements.


Since we don’t know each customer’s specific desired outcome for each visit, it makes sense to select a search experience performance indicator. The SX performance indicator summarizes measurable events that provide insight into how long it takes customers to reach their outcomes.

Our clients’ customers tell us that they want to find the information they need in five minutes or less. They are generally willing to perform two searches to find what they need. If three successive searches have produced no useful results for them, most say they will go elsewhere.

If you can invest in only a single indicator for all search-driven experiences, we think you should track the average number of searches performed in a search-driven visit. Your goal should be to drive that number well below two. An alternative that may be easier in some cases to measure is the percentage of visits that include an excursion to Internet search, since any time customers use Google’s search in lieu of your site search, your search experience is unsatisfactory.

An operational metric that will help identify improvements is the percentage of visits with more than two successive fruitless searches, broken down by product family, customer segment, or site area.

Of course you can ask customers if they are satisfied with their search experience, and you should. But this information comes after the fact, sometimes long after SX has degraded. To stay on top of SX, we recommend at least a daily review of actual events, summarized as average number of searches per search-driven visit.

Measurement Subtleties

Your analytics must isolate search-driven visits from the rest. This may be more or less important, depending on your site, your campaigns, and your customers. If your customers respond to frequent emails with a “click here to accept offer” link, then a substantial portion of visits will not be search driven and should not be factored into the top-level SX performance indicator.

Analytics should also discard “unintended” searches, such as blank searches and successive identical searches. To the extent possible, you also want to eliminate nonsense searches, which are searches for information unrelated to your business. These searches occur when a search string is unintentionally passed from the browser’s storage. Nonsense searches also occur when ...


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