The Swiftype Blog / Category: Higher Education

How site search makes higher education websites more accessible

Lots of website content and many types of visitors

As a higher education institution, you have thousands of pages of content that you want to make easily accessible to your wide range of constituents. Prospective students, current students, alumni, faculty, staff and parents all need to be able to find information on your website. How do you ensure they can find what they need?

Search makes content more accessible

Over the past 10 years, we have all grown accustomed to opening up Google, typing in what we want to find and getting relevant results. Search is an intuitive and flexible way to navigate the web as well as individual websites. A search bar is a window into many types of content and the interface can handle a wide variety of use cases.

Website searchers are on a mission

When a website visitor elects to use the search bar on your website, they have a specific goal in mind, so it’s important to provide them with relevant search results. At Swiftype, we specialize in building relevant site search technology and making it incredibly easy to set up on your website. We’re fortunate to be able to work with some great universities, and we wanted to highlight their Swiftype success stories.

Roanoke College

Located in Salem, Virginia, Roanoke College has an enrollment of 2,000 students. In 2014, Roanoke was ranked 2nd on the U.S. News and World Report list of Up-and-Coming National Liberal Arts Colleges.

Michael Santoroski, Director of Web and Software Development at Roanoke, was recently tasked with improving the college’s site search functionality as part of an overall website redesign. Roanoke had been using Google’s Custom Search Engine, but it was no longer meeting their needs. With a limited IT team, Roanoke needed a solution that would be easy to implement. After doing some research, they decided to go with Swiftype.

“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.”

– Michael Santoroski, Director of Web and Software Development at Roanoke College

Before implementing Swiftype, Roanoke was constantly getting emails through their contact page from users who couldn’t find content they were looking for. After implementing Swiftype, Roanoke cut the number of web support emails to virtually zero, and they’ve improved the overall user experience of their website.

READ MORE ABOUT ROANOKE + SWIFTYPE

 

NYU Libraries

New York University (NYU) Libraries is a global organization that advances learning, research, and scholarly inquiry in an environment dedicated to the open exchange of information. As the library of a prestigious university in the 21st Century, their proactive focus on technology enables them to actively reach users at their point of need, wherever that may be.

NYU Libraries was using Google Site Search, and they didn’t have a lot of ability to customize the search. NYU wanted to have more control of their search, so they made the switch to Swiftype.

After implementing Swiftype in a single day, NYU Libraries was able to enhance the user experience on their website. Visitors are now performing more searches than before and “it’s become very clear that site search is a big deal for [NYU’s] users.” To better understand what visitors are searching for, NYU Libraries uses Swiftype Search Analytics to see popular queries and commonly misspelled queries. After reviewing this information, NYU manually adds search results for misspelled words through a drag-and-drop interface.

READ MORE ABOUT NYU LIBRARIES + SWIFTYPE

 

St. Mary’s University

Founded in 1852, St. Mary’s is a liberal arts school located in San Antonio, TX. Personal attention and powerful academic programs have made St. Mary’s a nationally recognized liberal arts institution.

Before implementing Swiftype, St. Mary’s struggled to search across all of the different websites, both internal and public-facing, that they have created over the years. When they went looking for a site search solution, they wanted to find a product that enabled them to quickly customize their search results and have their changes go live immediately.

According to Elaine Shannon, Web Developer & User Interface Specialist at St. Mary’s, “search is one of the most popular ways to navigate our website.” They’ve received a lot of positive feedback on both their main site search engine and their Search by Interest engine. St. Mary’s Search by Interest engine is a dedicated search tool for prospective students to enter the subject matter they’re interested in and be presented with relevant majors at the school.

READ MORE ABOUT ST. MARY’S + SWIFTYPE

 

“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.” — Dustin Reynolds, Assistant Director of Digital Marketing, Azusa Pacific University

Azusa Pacific University

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.”

APU was able to get Swiftype fully set up on their website in about two weeks. During that time, they configured the search UI to match their website, created some custom meta tags to help guide the Swiftype web crawler (SwiftBot) and optimized the weights placed on fields in the their indexed data.

After implementing Swiftype, APU feels like they are providing a better experience to their website visitors. Additionally, they have a better understanding of what people are searching for on their website and can react accordingly.

READ MORE ABOUT APU + SWIFTYPE

Getting started with Swiftype Site Search

To get started with Swiftype, you just enter your website’s address and Swiftype will index your site and create your search engine in real-time. No coding is required, but developers can use the API for extra control. Swiftype can index any amount of content and new content is indexed automatically, so your search is always up-to-date.

A free trial makes trying Swiftype risk-free

Want to try out Swiftype Site Search for your website? You can sign up for a free trial here.

Swiftype Goes Platinum for HighEdWeb


It’s undeniable that colleges and universities face unique web and tech issues. A university’s website is an important intersection for its varied audiences who are all looking for different information. These diverse audiences create diverse challenges. Why not learn from and collaborate with other brilliant higher education web professionals to solve these problems?

Why HighEdWeb?

Join Swiftype at the annual HighEdWeb Conference in Hartford, CT this October. HighEdWeb is the premiere event created by and for higher education web professionals. Whether you’re a web developer, marketer, programmer, web manager, designer or writer you’ll be able to take advantage of this event’s unmatched professional development.

You’ll have endless opportunities to learn, share, and expand your professional network over a four-day period. Reconnect and meet new peers at the kick-off Welcome Reception at City Steam on Sunday 10/8. Jump start your conference by selecting from 100+ high-quality sessions, presentations, and keynotes featuring internationally-recognized speakers. Explore the expo hall and learn about the latest tech available to solve web challenges currently facing the higher ed community. And finally pop into the Big Social Event on the final conference evening at the Connecticut Science Center where you’ll be able to explore four floors containing 150 hands-on exhibits.

The HighEdWeb Conference is hosted by the Higher Education Web Professionals Association: an international organization of web professionals working at varied institutions of higher education. While their highly-active community is year-round, everything annually culminates at the HighEdWeb Conference.

Platinum’s have more fun

Swiftype is excited to be a Platinum sponsor at HighEdWeb this year. We know that delivering content efficiently to your website audience can be complicated when your visitors range dramatically from prospective to current students, faculty, parents, alumni and donors. We’re looking forward to sharing why web developers at institutions such as NYU, Azusa Pacific, and St. Mary’s University realized that website search is key to making the right information accessible to these audiences and why they chose Swiftype Site Search to gain more powerful, customizable, and accurate search.

Register today and join HighEdWeb at the Connecticut Convention Center. But if you want to get ahead of the curve, learn more about Swiftype Site Search now

5 Website Challenges Universities Will Face in 2017

Diverse audiences create diverse challenges, particularly when you’re attempting to curate and showcase the best and most relevant content on a website. Universities and higher education organizations feel this pain point more than most. Delivering content efficiently to your audience can become complicated when your website visitors range dramatically from prospective to current students, faculty, parents, alumni and donors. In addition to this, you often find yourself fielding homepage politics amongst faculty about what content should be featured and what they feel your visitors are actually searching for.

With so many different types of visitors coming to your site, are you really delivering what they’re looking for? Are you frustrated being the middleman without the access you need to analytics to support content decisions?

Does Your Website Search Make the Grade?

We’ve talked to top universities and explored some of the challenges unique to higher education that can best be solved with a robust site search solution. These are the 5 limitations:

1) The ability to rank search results or adjust the core algorithm of your on-site search
2) The overall search experience and matching the look and feel of standalone software to the rest of the website
3) The ability to implement advanced search features like autocomplete and spellcheck
4) Implementing quality search on mobile devices
5) Tracking conversions and quantifying your search traffic

As the person responsible for the website, do you know how to take these issues head on while staying out of home-page politics? It can all start with the help of a site search solution that just works. But before you make any changes, you’ll want to make sure the tool you choose meets these basic requirements:

  • Ability to customize search results
  • Flexibility in design to match look & feel of the site
  • Reporting insights to track the impact search has on traffic

Download the full eBook: 5 Website Challenges Universities Will Face in 2017 now to make sure you’re armed with all the detailed information needed in order to select the site search solution that’s right for you.

Or if you’re ready to see how Swiftype can help your college or university, reach out to request a free website search assessment. We’ll provide you with a report card of your current search experience and include recommendations that will help your site, make the grade.

Taking Site Search Back to School

They’re college students! They’re excited! They’re raring to go! But they need information to get started. More often than not, they hop online and search your university’s website to find everything they need without issue, right? Wrong. Their cursory search yields pages and pages of less-than-relevant search results. After exploring the first few options, they get frustrated because they can’t immediately find what they’re looking for. So, what do they do? They contact you. Over and over and over.

A university’s website is an important intersection for its varied audiences who are all looking for unique information. Often times additional menu options and subdomains are added in order to meet everyone’s needs, but web developers are increasingly realizing that site search is the key to making the right information more accessible.

Getting Smart with Site Search

Join us on Tuesday, March 28th to hear from the web development leaders from Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia and St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas. They’ll explain their own experiences and how they made the choice to make site search a strategic part of their web experience. They’ll cover:

  • Why their old solutions didn’t work and what they looked for in a new solution
  • How they made search the focus of their website and how visitors reacted
  • Where they ran into challenges along the way and how they overcame

Don’t miss this great opportunity to hear directly from your industry peers about how site search was a game-changer for their website. Register now!

Learn How Top Universities Put Site Search at the Head of the Class
Tuesday, March 28th at 10:00 am PT, 1:00 pm ET

On the Search: Azusa Pacific University Implements Swiftype

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

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.

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