The Swiftype Blog / Category: Customer Stories

On the Search: Azusa Pacific University Implements Swiftype

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Located northeast of Los Angeles, Azusa Pacific University (APU) is home to almost 10,000 students and counts 68 bachelor’s degrees, 45 master’s degrees, and eight doctoral programs within the system.

After years of using the Google Search Appliance for their website, the APU web team was faced with a new challenge. After Google announced it was phasing out the product, they were on the search for an even better solution—and not something so “old school.”

Here, Dustin Reynolds, Assistant Director of Digital Marketing, shares APU’s experiences of implementing and improving their search.

What were your “must-haves” for search during your evaluation?

At first, we didn’t really know what we were looking for—other than we wanted something that we could build into our website that looked custom and like it belonged there. We also wanted to be able to do keyword matches and pin them to the top of results. If someone types “MBA,” we need to ensure that we always serve Master of Business Administration as the very first result. Customization of search results was very important to us.

As we explored the options more, we started to see features that we really wanted. This included ease-of-use and the ability for many team members in our office to access the tool and work on refining the search options. If a team knew what should appear and they could then do it themselves without having to pass it to a developer, then it would make the process much more efficient within the office.

What was the actual Swiftype implementation like?

It was actually very fast—around two weeks. In that time, we figured out customization and fallback pages. We then went on to really delve into weighting, as well as creating some custom meta tags on our site to help the search engine figure out things we knew the user would be looking to find.

What has surprised you the most with your new deployment?

One of the biggest surprises was cost. Swiftype is quite a bit less than Google Search Appliance and for the tool that you’re getting.

What do you see as the biggest difference between Google Search Appliance and Swiftype?

Outside of cost, it’s having the ability to change things quickly, weight terms differently, and customize how we rank certain sections of our site. This is a big deal for us because we feel like we’re providing better quality service to the user now.

What kind of success have you seen since launching the improved search with Swiftype?

Our main goal is to get potential students to fill out a form and say they want more information on a program. Now we really have a window into what’s happening—whether it’s misspelling of search terms or a way to try and understand why they didn’t click on a certain search result. As far as conversions go, we set up one conversion variable, which for us is the Information Request Form.

Is there a feature you can’t live without?

I would say it’s the results ranking because we have such a robust site and anything can show up for a search term. Being able to control it and know that the first three or four options are on target is key. You’d be surprised—especially when people are searching on mobile— the amount of times a letter is skipped or doubled up. Now we can look and say, “Oh, clearly they were trying to type ‘admissions’ or ‘accreditation'” and account for that. It’s a big deal when we can make sure we’re serving up the content our audience is trying to find—even with terms that are often misspelled.

On the Search: St. Mary’s University Implements Swiftype

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On the Search: Elaine Shannon Web Developer & User Interface Specialist

What kind of challenges with search did you face before Swiftype?

One of the biggest challenges we hoped to solve with a new search tool was the ability to search across multiple domains. Over the years we have created many websites, both internal and public-facing, and there was no good way to search across them. It seems like an easy problem to solve, but on our main platform, we didn’t have a tool that could handle results from more than one website.

We also had a hard time making sure search results were relevant. As soon as we installed Swiftype, we started spending time customizing results. Users don’t need to sift through the thousands of pages and documents we’ve indexed across all these sites, they just need the top handful of results.

What were your “must-haves” for search during your evaluation?

The most important factor for us was building a search engine that spanned multiple websites on multiple domains. We also wanted to be able to have better control over search results. We can’t always change our content to match searchers’ intentions — for example, we don’t call our residence halls “dorms” — so being able to set up synonyms and custom result sets at an affordable price point sold us on Swiftype.

In what creative ways have you used Swiftype to improve your search?

Students don’t always know what major they want to pursue, so it’s not always easy for them to browse through a university website and find a program they want to commit to. We thought it might make it easier to decide if we set up a list of interests and linked those to related programs. So, we built a dedicated search tool. If you’re interested in art, you can type that in and be presented with five different program options that match that interest.

Our program page used to be a long list of everything we offered, and we found that site visitors didn’t stay on that page very long. Now, we offer a combination of options — you can search by interest, or you can filter through programs by degree or by school, and we’ve found that 34% of visitors are now using the Search by Interest tool and immediately finding what they’re looking for.

How are you making ongoing adjustments to your relevancy model?

I check on the dashboard weekly, even if it is just a quick glance. If there is anything glaring, like a popular search that’s not returning any results, or a search result set that’s not getting any clicks, we’ll quickly update those results. Otherwise I try to make a focused effort once a quarter to go through our data more deeply and customize our results to provide a better visitor experience.

We also build out content as needed for empty search results. A fun example of this is we didn’t have anything on our mascot for a while, so that was an easy one to add.

What kind of success have you seen since improving your search with Swiftype?

Search is one of the most popular ways to navigate our website. We’ve heard a lot of positive feedback on both our main engine (which searches cross-domain, so you can find the main site, the law school, the bookstore, and the intranet all in one engine) and our Search by Interest engine.

For us, the gold standard of conversion is when a visitor applies for admission, but prospective students are a long sales cycle and visit our sites multiple times before they take that step. We know that registering for a campus visit is a high indicator of a user’s likelihood to apply, and we can track those metrics and how site search has impacted them to date.

Like any tool, there was a bit of a learning curve when we first set up Swiftype. We had to learn which factors impacted the search results most — whether it be a headline, title, or page content. Now that we’ve had more than a year to tweak results, we’ve found a good balance and are serving our visitors more relevant results, which keeps them on the site longer.

On the Search: Roanoke College Implements Swiftype

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On the Search: Michael Santoroski, Director of Web and Software Development

Roanoke College was ranked 2nd on the 2014 U.S. News and World Report list of Up-and-Coming National Liberal Arts Colleges. As the Director of Web and Software Development, Michael Santoroski was tasked with improving the college’s site functionality, after a site redesign. The initial search solution was not returning the desired results and with so much on the line after a complete site overhaul, search was critical to help visitors find their way around a newly designed website.

Today we discussed the ease of implementing Swiftype and the biggest impact it has had on both their internal and public-facing sites.

What kind of challenges with search did you face before Swiftype?

Roanoke is a small college with about 2,000 students.  Like many colleges, we don’t have the resources to have the latest technology, but we needed to improve our on-site search experience because our site serves such a wide range of audiences. From prospective students, current students, faculty, and alumni – search is often the fastest way for them to find answers to their questions.

We were using Google’s Custom Search Engine, but it was no longer meeting our needs. The tool wasn’t flexible enough for our site and wasn’t producing the results we expected.

What were your “must-haves” for search during your evaluation?

Two things were really critical for us. Weighted search and being able to rank search results was key for us. Secondly, the type-ahead feature was really important to me. It just made searching so much better when Google first implemented it for the web.

With a limited IT team, I was also looking for a solution that would be easy to implement. I like that it’s a crawler-based solution. I just had to add our domain and set up probably took less than an hour to get it to a functioning state. Swiftype has really made installation as unobtrusive as possible.

What has surprised you the most with your new deployment?

The number of emails to our web support has been reduced to almost none. We were constantly getting emails through our contact page from users who couldn’t find content they were looking for, whether that be an upcoming course schedule or an event. As soon as we implemented Swiftype, the emails stopped…virtually overnight.

What new things did you find readers searching?

We had one instance where a faculty member told me she couldn’t find the academic catalog. I was in a meeting, so I went in and switched the search results around a little bit, but then she emailed me two days later and said “Oh, I found my problem, I was spelling it like British catalogue – with “gue”. So I just added that as a synonym and it’s fixed either way now.

That kind of on the fly customization really helps us keep our site search results relevant.

What kind of success have you seen since launching the improved search with Swiftype?

For higher education, it’s a little harder to quantify our success metrics in relation to site-search. It is all about ease of use. Swiftype does have an engagement module for that, but I haven’t really gotten to play with those. What we end up seeing in the admissions process is that a student comes back to the site over multiple sessions, and when they come to the site, each time they have a different objective.

On the flip side, you also have alumni who receive emails, come to the site looking for alumni events and rely on search. Ultimately those are visitors you want making donations to the college, so each type of visitor has different success metrics.

Higher Ed websites are difficult. The administration wants all kinds of content on the site, but students want something else, so there is a balance in terms of what information to show.

I think in a way, search has solved that problem. It’s one of those things that works great and I don’t worry about it too much. It just does exactly what I need it to do and doesn’t make me spend a lot of time fighting with it. When I’m in a meeting and someone says “I tried to search for this thing and I didn’t find it”, I can just go in there and easily make it happen. Make that be the top search result and it’s super easy to do, even I can’t screw it up.

On the Search: Monetizing Search in a whole new way

Search has changed the way our customers do business, and we are on a mission to communicate the value of it. “On the Search” is a new series to help uncover the good, bad, and ugly of what many companies face with search today–and how Swiftype can help.

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On the Search:  Travis Clark, EO Media Group

Travis Clark was in a search bind.

As the digital development manager for EO Media Group, Clark needed to improve their search results—and fast. With only three weeks before launching a new ad marketplace platform, he was on the brink.

Here, he discusses the challenges and ultimate success of moving from a “black hole” to new business and revenue opportunities. And it’s all thanks to a transformation through search.

What kind of challenges with search did you face?

We are a small publishing company with 11 newspapers throughout the Pacific Northwest. We built some things with newspaper vendors and used WordPress, but the search for both was awful. Plugins didn’t work very well for us either.

I worked on building a new ad marketplace that is now running on the Capital Press site. We were looking to hit hundreds of thousands of searchable bits of content, and nothing we tried could handle that for us. It was very frustrating.

As a small team, we couldn’t say, “Okay, let’s throw a bunch of money at a developer to build something from scratch.” I wasn’t sure what we were going to do. Then Swiftype was recommended to us to check out.

What was your “must-have” for search in your new ad marketplaces?

Speed was definitely key. When we found Swiftype, we were able to implement it in just a couple weeks and right before our launch. And it had all the power we had been looking for.

It was also a priority to finally be able to do facet searches. The faceting part is super important because we really need to be able to drill down through the content. Now that we have Swiftype we can’t live without the results ranking. We literally need that to do our business.

What has been most surprising with your new deployment?

Before we pretty much had a black hole. We could track users, page views, and all the normal Google analytics. But we didn’t have any idea what people were actually searching for.

Case in point is our Capital Press site, which is an agriculture publication. We thought we knew the customers for it, but this changed once we started receiving the metrics on search queries from Swiftype.

There are parts of our audience we never knew existed. Now we can take these metrics to new advertisers who wouldn’t think we are a fit for them. Or, on the flipside, go back to old customers with new pitches and the numbers to back it up. We’re so happy with what we have now.

What new things did you find readers searching?

A couple surprising search terms were “Christmas trees” and “livestock.”

Christmas trees as a term starts popping up in the summer and tapers off after Christmas obviously. We didn’t know anyone was looking to our agriculture publication to buy and price the market online.

Our print publication had always sold to the livestock business. But there are also a lot of searches on livestock online, which we didn’t realize. This is a great example of a wide, open market because most of our advertisers for the digital site are not in that industry. We can now outreach to those businesses in our region and show them a market they haven’t hit yet.

What kind of success have you seen since launching the improved search with Swiftype?

Most telling is that ad revenue has increased 145% since implementing Swiftype. We’ve also seen some really incredible results with an increase in users (43%), sessions (17%) and new (46%) and returning (31%) users. This tells me that the new platform is attracting more people and more often.

The ability to refine the platform and begin seeing classified advertising more like a retail business has been very exciting. We believe powerful search has streamlined our user experience.

We have some really great stories from our customers, too. One has a tractor rental business and, after three months, he had to pull his listings because the booking was so far out. He switched it to used parts he sells and had to pull that because he got low on inventory. It’s pretty amazing.

How Swiftype Improved Relevance for Instructables.com

Search is one thing, but powerful search is something different altogether. Instructables.com, an online community for people to find and share do-it-yourself projects, realized this after struggling with Solr for years.

Instructables employees were frustrated by a search engine that returned very basic results for broad searches and failed to return results for misspelled or overly specific queries. Moreover, the Instructables staff had spent countless hours tracking and quantifying the quality of their user-generated content by popularity, tags, and other metadata, but their search remained a “black box” that only returned very simple text based results. Because search is the core navigational tool on the site, they needed a solution that would deliver “good” results that drew upon the rich metadata associated with each project.

To fix this problem and deliver better search results to their visitors, Instructables came to Swiftype. For the past three years, we have finely tuned our search algorithm to deliver outstanding search results out-of-the-box.

After implementing Swiftype and fine-tuning their relevance model to draw upon this metadata, Instructables saw a dramatic improvement in their search results for a wide range of queries. Now, users were seeing more popular and overall better projects. Let’s explore these improvements by looking at a number of query types and comparing their results from before and after implementing Swiftype.

  1. Overly generic searches. Swiftype improved results for broad searches by digging deeper into the metadata, weighting results based on a combination of project popularity, project title, individual step titles within the project description, and more. This combination surfaced results that the instructables staff knew were better projects, with more detailed instructions and higher user ratings, instead of simply populating a list of projects with the same title as the query.
  2. Overly specific searches. Before Swiftype, users who searched for specific projects, such as a “diy stethoscope,” would only see a handful of results for very exact matches. Now, users see a wider range of results and have more options to choose from.
    Swiftype helped Instructables surface more relevant content for queries that previously returned few or no results.
  3. Misspellings. Instead of only showing results for projects that include the same misspellings as the query, Swiftype’s algorithm automatically corrects these spellings by noticing if a similar query has significantly more results. Additionally, Swiftype’s search algorithm learns from the corpus of searchable text in Instructables’ index, making the spelling tolerance model specifically tailored for the query patterns of Instructables’ user base. This is particularly notable for an obscure query such as “Arduino,” which is not an English word but is nevertheless important and popular on Instructables.com.

These several examples only scratch the surface of the many algorithmic improvements that Swiftype brings to site owners. On the modern web, users expect powerful search engines that draw deeply from website databases to deliver relevant results. To hear more about what Swiftype can do for you website, check out our solutions pages or contact our sales team today.