Keeping Your Eye on VitalSite Search Metrics

woman with binoculours

Search is the means by which people find the content they’re looking for. When it comes to a healthcare site, this might be a consumer looking for a doctor who specializes in their condition(s), a mom looking for the nearest urgent care clinic for her son’s earache, or a patient looking for the login page to the portal to renew a prescription.

While we typically look at search to assess how visitors find our site from big search providers (such as Google), understanding how visitors are using VitalSite’s built-in search engine is important too. Keep in mind, search doesn’t end at your doorstep! Understanding how your site visitors use VitalSite search can help inform decisions on where and how to tweak your site to respond to visitor needs and behavior by:

  • Diagnosing navigation problems
  • Identifying content gaps
  • Refining keywords
  • Refining navigation labels

Fortunately, VitalSite makes site search easy to monitor. Since it’s designed to work with Google Analytics’ Site Search reporting, the details of what visitors search for once they reach your site are easy to review. Let’s look at an example from a healthcare organization:

internal site search

Notice anything interesting? I’m intrigued by the fact that four out of the top five search terms appear related to the client’s patient portal1. If I saw this on one of my sites, I’d investigate a bit and ask myself a few questions:

  • Is the patient portal accessible/discoverable by searching the terms that actual site visitors use?
  • Are there clusters of pages where people tend to conduct these searches from?
  • Are there ways we can make the portal login more apparent to our visitors without having to search?
  • Do the search results for these terms bring me to pages that are helpful?

A few minutes of investigation reveals some promising areas to examine, and possibly improve.

Let’s take a look at another example:

site search results

Wow! Over 70% of the queries for the top ten search terms are baby related, and quite likely relevant to the Baby Photos module2. Variants of “nursery” alone account for nearly 43% of top 10 search queries… and a little poking at this revealed the overwhelming majority of searches for these terms originated from the site’s home page…

The site’s home page… where there are no immediately apparent links to baby, nursery or baby gallery related content.

Is this a problem? Well, I’m tempted to say, “Of course!” But here’s where the art of interpretation comes into play. While I’d be suspicious of something like this and suggest a webmaster consider linking to the baby gallery from the home page, there could be valid reasons why they wouldn’t want to do this.

This leads us to an important point: use site search analytics to investigate, but don’t assume that every high-frequency search term reflects a problem with your site’s Information Architecture (IA) or usability. Remember, it’s just one signal of many, and you need to determine which signals are the most valuable to respond to at any given moment.

How to Track

VitalSite is designed to work with Google Analytics to ensure that site search information is captured. However, this functionality is not turned on by default in Google Analytics. If you work with Geonetric to manage your Google Analytics, we’ve likely turned it on for you already. If you manage your own Google Analytics account, we’ve provided instructions on GeoCentral (our client knowledge base) that outline how to begin tracking VitalSite searches in Google Analytics.


  1. Of course, this assertion implies that “portal” searches represent site visitors who are looking for a patient portal and not an employee portal. This is something that would warrant additional investigation.
  2. The assumption we’d want to investigate here is that traffic for the term “nursery” (all variants) is related to the baby gallery.
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This entry was posted in Best Practices, Search/SEO/PPC, VitalSite by Michael O'Neill. Bookmark the permalink.
Michael O'Neill

About Michael O'Neill

It’s not often you find a communications professional who is an expert writer, understands the power of social media and has the technical capabilities to embed on and contribute to software development teams. But that’s exactly the background Michael brought with him to Geonetric as the technical communications strategist. From writing eBooks to managing Geonetric’s digital presence, Michael uses his software know how and his marketing savvy to help tell Geonetric’s story through a variety of platforms. This former adjunct professor holds a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Worcester State College in Massachusetts and completed graduate level coursework at the University of Connecticut. In addition, Michael is also a Certified ScrumMaster, a contributing writer at iBusiness Magazine and a member of the Board of Directors at Gems of Hope. This new dad is known for his high coffee standards and has quite the following around the office when he brings in his favorite craft-roasted beans.

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