Xavier University & “Search”… Creation of a Distinctive Home Page (Part 2)

Xavier University Story Continues: Creating the Most Distinctive Home Page in Higher Education

Last week I presented the first two answers to questions I sent along last year to Xavier to learn more about how they decided to position a “Search” box and the dominant feature of the university’s home page. 
Here today are the next two answers from Rob Riesland, Director for Web Services in the Marketing and Communications Office. If you missed the first two questions and answers, you can start with those first if you wish.
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What did you do to ensure that your “search” function
worked well enough to make this change?

Nailing the search was the key to making this work. We
decided to enhance our current Google CSE (free version) by implementing our
own, manually-maintained autocomplete script on top of the Google search. This
gives us the fine-grained control that we desire.

To start off with, we automatically added every academic
program to the search suggestions. The analytics tell us that this is one major
area that prospective students are looking for. We also added all of the
university offices, in their own category, with a lower priority than the
academic programs.

We also added general search terms. We have been tracking
search for years and know what people are looking for during different times of
the year. We set minimum annual and monthly thresholds for search counts and
used that data to add important search terms to the suggestions. This data is reviewed
on a regular basis, with slightly lowered thresholds each time, and new items
are added as needed.

Lastly, we told everyone on campus what we were doing,
asked them to search for items that are important to their department, and let
us know if there is anything we need to do differently. We did not receive much
feedback from this round, but I think it was an important part of the process.

Over the past few months we have added several items to the
search as needed. This is an important ability that allows us to adjust as
needed and as requested by the departments on campus.

How will you measure success going forward? Who is
responsible for monitoring results?

We measure success in two ways:

Are people using the results? We have extensive analytics
on the search box and we track if people are using the search suggestions or if
they default to the standard search. It should be noted that we also display up
to 4 suggestions on the traditional results page, in case people make it that

We are also looking at user behavior over time, tracking
how many site visitors, especially external, use the search vs the traditional
navigation techniques.

The new information architecture of the whole site requires
regular review and looking at the search box will certainly be part of that.
This process will be run by the Office of Marketing and Communications, in
collaboration with other departments on campus.

Marketing Opportunity: Learning more about Top Tasks and Carewords

There is of course, great marketing opportunity here. 
I’ll be looking forward to learning more about what “new” or first-time visitors search for most often. That’s a key indicator of the top tasks that website visitors want to complete. And creating a website that let’s people complete their top tasks as quickly and easily as possible is more important to marketing success than anything else on the site. 
Especially important: Are visitors searching for content that is not already on the website? And if it is present, what happens when visitors land on the page with that content?
This is also a fine opportunity to learn more about the language people, especially future students, use. Those are the “carewords” that will engage people throughout a website.
That’s all for now.

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