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Why a Good Website Search Experience Matters
Andrew Martin

Take a look at the top of Amazon’s homepage. Notice the huge search bar that takes up half of the top banner? Of course you do! It’s impossible to miss! 

Amazon home page search bar

That’s because Amazon, one of the world’s largest online retailers, knows the importance of a simple, yet flexible and powerful search experience. Amazon knows that shoppers are almost exclusively using that search bar to find what they want. 

Can you imagine navigating through thousands of Amazon’s pages without that handy search bar? Easily getting lost could cause visitors to leave in frustration. And once that happens, they’ll never come back. 

Why force someone to fumble through confusing navigation systems when you can provide them with a quick, easy, and responsive search bar?

Why having a good search experience matters

Google drastically changed the way we navigate the web. Think of it this way: how often do you tell someone to Bing something? You don’t. You say “Google it” because the search engine has become a near necessity in our everyday Internet-browsing lives. 

More than 90% of all online experiences begin in search. This is especially true for families still in the “discovery” phase of their journey. These visitors are going to expect the same search experience on your website. Simply having a great navigation system is no longer enough. Internet users expect a quick and easy search experience with near instantaneous results. 

However, a great search experience doesn’t begin and end by simply adding a search bar to the homepage. (It’s a great start, but it’s not nearly enough.) Think of how many times you’ve typed something into the search bar, hit enter, and were greeted with “zero results found.” That’s almost as frustrating as not even having a search bar. 

Instead, supplement your search bar with powerful, advanced tools for a more responsive, efficient, and easy-to-use search experience.

Fortunately, we created just the tool for the job.

SEO Services

How Advanced Search crafts a better search experience

Advanced Search was created to elevate your school’s search experience with the same precise, secure, and high-performing experience that visitors can find, and expect, elsewhere. 

Advanced Search indexes all of your website’s content, public and private (including all dynamic module data), so you can direct visitors to the pages you want them to see, or keep them away from content you don’t want them to see. 

But why not just use Google?

Great question! The answer is simple: ads. Google transitioned from an ad-based search engine to an ad-based company that just so happens to have a search engine. Their focus shifted from providing an outstanding product to providing an ad-delivery mechanism through their search engine.

Google results with ads at the top of a school results page

Google introduced paid ads across all search results pages, including on all school websites that used our old search tool. We didn’t feel like an ad-filled search experience was the best solution for our schools. So we built Advanced Search to be completely ad free. We wanted to provide our schools with a superior, more user-friendly alternative. 

Google also only indexes publicly-available content. So any private content, such as anything behind a password (our Portals), is always subject to a time delay. It wasn't the end of the world, but it was a simple inconvenience we could easily fix with our own search tool.  

But that’s enough about Google. Let’s get back to what really matters. 

Graduating from Basics to Advanced

By default, every Composer website includes Basic Search that comes with on-page content results, site-wide analytics, and the Search element. It’s a fantastic start for a more engaging and accurate search experience. 

But these tools are just the tip of the iceberg. Advanced Search includes all of the above, plus nearly a dozen extra tools for added power and search performance, including:

Results Preview to immediately returns results while a user is typing. It’s the same autocomplete tool you can find on nearly every search engine, now available for your school’s website. This includes showing matching content from both Posts and Resources in the results preview. 

Results Preview on Baylor's home page search bar

Synonym Management gives you the option of creating equivalent search entries for words close enough to provide the same results. For example, you can create a synonym rule so that any search for “athletics” also returns results for a “sports” search. 

Synonym Manager list of examples

Advanced Syntax allows users to search for an exact term with quotation marks. Entering “varsity soccer” will only return results for a school’s varsity soccer team. This excludes all other varsity sports. Users can also exclude specific words by putting a minus (-) in front of a word that shouldn’t appear in their results. 

Search Rules control what pages or content appears in results, or use specific terms to promote pages. This is done through a highly-configurable IF / THEN expression system to create four different types of search rules. 

Two examples of Search Rules in Advanced Search

Analytics allows site Admins to peek behind the curtain at the previous week’s analytics to see what visitors are searching for, and from where. This includes a statistical breakdown of the most popular searches, unique visitor totals, and geographic location. 

Example of Analytics in Advanced Search

Analytics has the potential of totally changing the way you create and shape your school’s website based on real feedback. Discover that people are searching for one page more than any other? Use that knowledge to create new Search Rules to promote pages that aren’t receiving as much attention. Or, create pages and content that better resonates with countries less active on your website with the Personalization element

Advanced Search provides an entire toolbox in one simple package. It can also be a lot to wrap your head around. Let’s take a look at how two schools are currently using Advanced Search to craft a better, more engaging search experience. 

The International School of Brussels

Notice anything unique about The International School of Brussels (ISB) homepage? Perhaps the enormous search bar that’s front and center? 

International School of Brussels home page with search bar

ISB understands how much of today’s Internet users rely on search, and they wanted to give them the same self-guided navigation experience they’re used to. The search box has become one of the most used features on any homepage, so why not make it a central asset? 

Clicking the triangle on the left of the search bar expands a previously-hidden menu that includes links to some of the school’s most-frequently visited pages. This gives visitors two quick ways to navigate ISB’s website.

Hidden quick links menu for ISB search bar

Searching for information on ISB tuition? You can either click the “Tuition & Fees” quick link, or you can enter “tuition” into the search bar. Choosing the latter brings you to an ad-free results page that displays the 20 most-relevant tuition results.

Search results for "tuition" on ISB website

Let’s see how ISB crafted this experience. First, ISB is using all three of the module’s advanced features:

Advanced Tools enabled on ISB website

ISB made excellent use of the Manage Synonyms feature with 26 synonyms and one one-way synonym to enhance their search experience: 

The first synonym is a particularly great example for any international school. To keep their website accessible to multiple languages, ISB linked the word “calendar” to multiple spellings from a variety of languages. 

Example of two-way synonyms for calendar on ISB website

This means families speaking German, Spanish, Portuguese, and a handful of other languages, can all easily find the calendar page by searching in their own language. ISB also included several common misspellings of calendar in the English language. We’re all guilty of hastily searching without checking for spelling mistakes. 

ISB also made great use of the one-way synonym feature. This tool can seem complex at first, but it’s used to create equivalents for words or expressions that don’t exactly mean the same thing but are still interchangeable enough to ultimately provide the same results. 

For example, ISB entered “how much does it cost” in the Search Term box to display results that include “fee, fees, tuition” in the Synonyms box.  

Example of one-way synonyms for "how much does it cost" on ISB website

The idea is that a visitor searching for “how much does it cost” is looking for information about how much it costs to attend ISB. ISB doesn’t have a “how much does it cost” page, but they do have plenty of pages that contain information about fees and tuition. Under normal circumstances, a search for “how much does it cost” would return zero results, but the one-way synonyms allow that same search to display all results dealing with fees and tuition. 

ISB also created dozens of Search Rules to target common search terms and alter the way the search bar displays results. We’ll look at their first Search Rule as an example. 

Search Rule example to promote a page based on an "innovation" search on ISB website

Search Rules have four search term conditions: Contains, Starts With, Ends With, and Is.

Contains applies if the specified term appears in any way in the user’s search. Starts With only applies if the specified term is at the beginning of the search. Ends With only applies if the specified term is at the end. Is only applies if the specific term is the only thing the user enters. 

ISB used contains to single out the word “innovation” when it’s included in any search. The “Then promote a result” checkbox was selected to promote the website’s Learning by Design 2019 page. Any user that searches with the word “innovation” will see that page in their results. 

ISB also used the “Then display specific information” checkbox for so that any search that contains “lunch menu” displays the text entered into the Search Rule text box. ISB also provided a link to the community portal where the user can login to view the lunch menu. 

Search Rule example to display specific information for a "lunch menu" search on the ISB website

There are thousands of configurable options for Search Rules. The right combination of creativity and ingenuity can create unique and powerful ways to guide users or promote pages. 

Creating and designing with Analytics

For the Analytics section of Advanced Search, let’s take a look at a private school in Tennessee.

The first set of analytics provides a quick glance at the past week’s search engagement. In this case, the private Tennessee school had 999 total searches from 297 unique individuals. 

Analytics example for number of searches for the Tennessee private school

While these highlights are interesting, Advanced Search provides even more data, including what these unique visitors have been searching for. 

Top Searches breaks down all the searches across the website into four data sets: Query, Count, Average Hits, and ...without Typos

Analytics example for Top searches using "calendar"

Calendar was the most-searched Query during this week with a Count of 28 total searches. The calendar searches returned 52 results in the Average Hits column. The last column is impressive when you consider that calendar is one of the most-frequently misspelled words in the English language. However, all 52 hits came back without Typos.  

Another data set focuses on Top Searches Returning Few Hits. The three buttons at the top toggle between less than 10 hits, less that 5 hits, and zero hits. This is incredibly useful to find least searched-for pages, allowing schools to better promote these pages by creating synonyms or search rules to create better results.   

Analytics example of Top Searches Returning Few Hits using "accessibility"

For example, only four people searched for accessibility in the past week. This particular school can use synonyms like “approachability” or “convenience” so searches with those words display the accessibility page in the results list. 

Or, search rules can be created to promote the accessibility page when the same words appear in a search. There are multiple options available to help pages climb their way to the top of search results. 

Search Rules example using a search for convenience to promote a web accessibility page

The last section available under Analytics is Source Countries. Here you can find two visual representations of which countries are accessing your school’s website. 

Analytics results showing the countries that most-often visit the Tennessee private school website

The United States makes up 96.5 percent of all searches for this private school in Tennessee. This breakdown makes perfect sense considering the school largely draws from a domestic applicant pool.

However, an international school in Germany with the same results could use this information to quickly and easily change their website’s content to better resonate with a wider international audience. 

Analytics allows you to make these changes based on real data. It’s an incredibly useful way to accurately track website performance to make changes as needed.

Key Takeaway

Advanced Search empowers your website visitors to quickly and easily find the exact content they’re looking for with powerful behind-the-scenes tools. Direct users along the search path you want with relevant suggestions, synonyms, advanced syntax and nearly a dozen other tools for a better, more engaging search experience. 

Digital marketing and consulting services for schools. Click here to request a consultation!

Andrew Martin Header

As Finalsite’s Product Marketing Specialist, Andrew writes blogs and creates videos to share information about all the latest and greatest Finalsite products. Andrew has more than 10 years of video production experience and a journalism education from the University of South Carolina. He is excited about bringing his experience and expertise to Finalsite.



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