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January 8, 2007

They’ve got questions, do you have answers?

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Phil Lessen had an informative post over at Google Blogoscoped this weekend that compiled the number one question listed in Google’s help files for each of its different properties. Reading through, it’s a good gauge of what users are still having trouble understanding and where Google’s services can be strengthened.

For example, it’s pretty interesting that the top question on Orkut is still how do I join and Gmail users are still asking How do I import contacts? Can’t you just see the mass of determined child molesters hopelessly trying to create an Orkut account or the horde of tantrum-throwing Gmail users who still can’t figure out how the #%*! to get their Hotmail contacts into Gmail?

Despite being comical, it’s invaluable information for Google to have. Imagine if as a site owner you were privy to your customers’ number one question or concern regarding your product or services? Well, if you’re monitoring how your customers search and what they’re searching for, you are.

It’s a safe bet that your customers are already telling you what they want, often in their own words. When trying to give customers exactly what they want, you can put the crystal ball and unfashionable purple turban aside (unless you’re into that kind of stuff), you won’t need it. All you have to do is monitor the footsteps they’re naturally leaving behind and act accordingly.

First, if you don’t have a site search enabled, you should. When customers have questions or can’t find what they’re looking for, the first place they’ll turn is your site’s internal engine. (The second place is the back button. It’s your call which one they hit first.) Make sure it’s available for them to use.

One of the benefits of enabling a site search is that allows you to see what customers are searching for in their own language. It’s important to know how your customers are most inclined to ask for what they want. Are they using the same jargon you are or are they staying away from industry-related terms? This will give you a better idea of who your customer is. Is it the technology savvy IT guy or the mom who’s so proud she finally realized that hitting enter makes the search engine go?

Site searches give you a window to identifying the areas users are having trouble understanding. Maybe you’re selling cowboy boots (Bruce Clay’s favorite product example!) and you see a high level of searches for "boot sizing information" or "boot maintenance" being performed. There’s their number one question: Customers don’t know how boots are supposed to fit. You need to tell them.

A site search will also pinpoint which pages users are having trouble finding. If you find a large number of searches for "blue suede cowboy boots" you know two things. First, you should make your blue suede cowboy boots page more accessible on the home page so that customers can easily find it. And second, you should create a page on your site to dissuade customers from ever having children. People with that kind of fashion sense should not be allowed to procreate.

Besides just analyzing internal searches, you should also monitor your customers’ external searches. How did they find your site? What engine did they use and what was their query string? You can better address their concerns better once you know their motive for entering.

For example, you may find that the majority of your visitors arrive looking for information on Product A when your site is geared more to selling the brand new Product B. If this is the case, you’re probably seeing a high abandonment rate on your site. Understanding each customer’s conversion path will show you what they’re most interested in and what needs your site should be addressing. It’s all part of giving customers what they want.

Just a friendly tip, if your site’s FAQ page is the most trafficked page on your site, you have a problem. Your content should be written as clearly and succinctly as possible so that users never need to reference that so-close-to-abandonment-you-can-taste-it page. If there’s an area of your site that’s not working for users, rewrite or restructure it. If there’s a page that’s buried so deep users can’t find it, figure out how to make it more accessible.

Studying customers search queries can also highlight bigger reputation management issues. If users land on your site via the query "toxic blue suede cowboy boots" or "blue suede cowboy boots death" there are concerns developing that you must dispel.

If you want to know what your customers are looking for, both in regards to content and actual site pages, monitoring their internal and external searches will help you to round up all the questions they need answering. A successful site is one that is able to address all of a customer’s concerns without them ever having to ask.

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