Web Wednesday: Create the most usable, findable and searchable Web site

Web Wednesday: Create the most usable, findable and searchable Web site

From Information Resources and Technologies

This week we bring you the second in our three-part series about Web analytics: "Search."

Web and Media Services, along with departmental Web-site managers throughout the university, put much thought into the design of a Web site to ensure that our Web visitors find what they want and need. While there is an art and science to crafting the information architecture of a Web site (e.g., information design; navigation, organization and labeling), sometimes, no matter how well-designed the sites are, people still can’t find the information and services they are looking for. Industry standard says that if Web visitors do not find what they are looking for within five to seven seconds, they move to the search box.

Through the use of search-optimization strategies, we can influence and elevate our Web site’s presence in external search engine results and help visitors find content within our Web site.

'Search' in the World Wide Web

  • More than 625 million searches are conducted online each day;
  • Second only to email, the most popular activity for U.S. Internet users is "search"
  • Over half of all Internet users never go past the first two pages of search results
  • Yahoo! Search Marketing (2006) found top keyword searches by students could be organized into the following topics: entertainment and social, transportation, consumer products, banking and financial, travel, class, homework and education

Google, which holds almost half the search market, offers both organic (e.g., search results displayed naturally, not paid) and paid search Web pages. (See graphic below.) If your Web site is not showing up in the organic search list, it would benefit from search optimization. Jupiter Research (2005) says that organic search is more effective and trusted than paid search ads.  

Search at UST
UST has moved from using the free Google search engine to the Google search appliance to improve how people find what they are looking for through search. When you use the "UST SEARCH" box at the top of every page, you're using the Google search appliance.  We can track keyword searches and promote selected results. By looking at popular searches, we can see what areas of the site need to be communicated more clearly and visibly -- either within the search results, or through navigation changes.

A case study in search results
In July 2006, one of the top-10 search phrases was "blackboard."  At that time, a search for "blackboard" brought up piles of pages that talked about Blackboard, but none of them actually took you to Blackboard.

The solution is using keyword check and placement within the Google Search Appliance that looks for "blackboard."  When visitors search for that phrase, a special highlight – similar to a paid result - appears at the top of the results. (See graphic below.) The organic results themselves aren't affected; if you want information about Blackboard, you can still see the organic information.  But the Google Search Appliance gives us the ability to point you to what you probably wanted to see.

Most popular search phrases at UST:
The top keyword searches for the month of September was some form of the following words:

  • Bookstore, book store hours
  • Employment, jobs
  • Career, career development
  • Calendar
  • Blackboard
  • Email
  • Study abroad
  • IRT
  • Transcripts
  • Murphy, class schedule

How our Web visitors find us: What we do to increase our search rankings?
Peter Morville in Ambient Findability offers these four suggestions:

  • Determine the most common keywords and phrases that users from your target audience are entering into search engines.
  • Include those keywords and phrases in your visible body text, navigation links, page headers and titles, metadata tags, and alternative text for graphic images.
  • Proceed cautiously when considering the use of drop-down menus, image maps, frames, Flash, and other advanced coding approaches that may prevent a search engine spider from crawling your pages.
  • Create direct links from your home page, sitemap, and navigation system to important destination pages to increase their page popularity ranking.

IRT is currently working with clients in conjunction with the WebSpace project on developing our search optimization techniques.   Together, we can learn more about how to create the most usable, findable and searchable Web site for our community and our visitors. For more information about Search and Web Analytics, visit the IRT Web site, contact your local technology consultant or the IRT Tech Desk at IRTHelp@stthomas.edu or call (651) 962-6230.