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.