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Improving The Higher Education Online Experience With Site Search

Technology is changing the face of higher education. College and university websites are typically massive, consisting of thousands of pages devoted to serving the diverse needs of current and prospective students, faculty, staff, parents and alumni. Each of these groups has specific needs that need to be addressed, which is why giving them the easiest pathways to relevant information is vital.

The cost of not creating easy paths to content can be significant. Especially at large schools serving thousands of students, you can risk your administrative staff becoming increasingly overwhelmed with incoming phone and email requests for information, if visitors to the school’s website aren’t able to find what they are looking for.

How Cludo’s Site Search solution can help

Site search is more than just a search engine on your university’s website. It’s also a source of valuable insights into what visitors to your site are interested in finding. Students, teachers and administrators alike will find classes, departments, events, organizations, etc. without much effort. Basically, when content is easily found on a site, you can spend more time ensuring that you have the right content sitting on your website, paired with a user-friendly experience for your site visitors. Since your website is a digital extension of your school, engaging with prospective and current students should be your highest digital goal. An effective way of achieving this is through a site search platform.

Cludo’s site search is a perfect fit for college and university websites. It assists both students and educators in securing content quickly. Cludo’s search platform is powerful, intuitive and most importantly, it gives you all the control.

Through a customizable dashboard, you’ll have access to course filters that can be easily configured to meet the needs of your university. Users can set up their filters based upon start/end dates, availability and course locations. This allows your students to easily find the courses they need to take for a certain semester. Students are more likely to graduate on time when they find the courses they need for their degree programs. The course search remains agnostic to institutions of any size or specialty, no matter if you’re a university, technical/vocational school, summer school, language school, sports club, or a community college offering courses on photography and cooking.

AI-driven relevance that leaves you in control

Given the huge amount of content, and the large number of visitors to higher education websites, colleges and universities typically already have some type of site search already implemented. Often times it is either a CMS search solution built on a platform like Drupal or Sitecore, or a Google search solution like Google Search Appliance, or Google Custom Search.

Given that CMS search platforms are typically difficult to maintain and use, and Google Search Appliance requires replacement due to it being sunset, website owners in the higher education space are currently looking to upgrade to the next generation of internal search for their sites.

Enter Cludo.

While the CMS search engines typically don’t offer much by way of AI or machine learning driven functionality, Google does, but it’s a black-box- you’re required to trust your solution to deliver the best possible results without the ability to really intervene.

Education QueryAt Cludo, we believe in the power of our machine learning to deliver relevant search results, while also appreciating that website owners sometimes have a better sense of what’s important to certain campuses or the visitors to specific education sites. That’s why we allow users to easily modify and tweak the rankings of search terms suggested by our AI driven ranking system. Of course, our solution automatically learns and gets smarter over time, progressively increasing the accuracy of results delivered for every search term.

Utilizing Cludo’s intranet capabilities, site owners can also create personalized searches based on individual users, and organize content based on each department in your institution. The needs of your organization can be broken up by specific records, documents, files and data. This means that an individual on the English department’s webpage will find subject matter related to the specific department, and not information on unrelated matter.

As with most educational organizations, PDF and Word files are likely on your site. Many sites are unable to index these files. However, Cludo can search for these files so that your site users can find them with ease.

Site search designed to make schools more efficient

Cludo saves you time and effort in aiding and attracting more students, giving you an edge over competing institutions. We do this by equipping your website with a customizable search interface to showcase your vast course selection, and our intuitive course search filters can be easily configured to meet the needs of your institution’s website.

Much like courses, search terms for any webpage on your site can be configured for relevance. Bump results to the top of the results page and ensure outdated information is pushed down the list through Cludo’s page ranking feature. Ensuring that certain features are promoted over others lets you specifically promote content. The control remains in your hands. Complete control over your site search platform is incredibly important when you have a website that aims to cater to the needs of your students and faculty.

Students on computersThe ability to further boost content is easily done through the content boosting feature. Content about approaching deadlines to drop classes can be highlighted at the top of the results page. Old news stories that are irrelevant can be pushed out of the loop. This feature is important for an educational institution that continually has news updates regarding their sports programs, current research, class updates and school accomplishments as they showcase the most current news to site visitors.

Bigram matching is also a key feature that will help students to search for specific results using multiple words in one query. These are called “long tailed search terms” and are very effective to narrowing down what you’re looking for, when using common terms. In these cases, Cludo will find results for multiple word queries that are similar to, but not exactly the same as the text in your searchable index. This is useful for users that are keen on searching multiple items at once. For example, a student may wish to search for “drop deadline” if the class they’re enrolled in isn’t going the way they intended. College sports enthusiasts may want to search for “football schedule” to check when their favorite team plays next. In these instances, Cludo goes beyond simply returning results for both words in the query, and looks at the context of words around instances of that combination of words to return accurate results.

Creating a more engaging digital environment

You also increase the visibility of extremely time-sensitive and important information by typing in Cludo’s Dynamic Search Banners, which display the necessary information when certain search terms are triggered. The Banners tool is highly desirable for educational institutions that wish to promote events, deadlines and important announcements near the search input bar. This is a promotional tool that can remind users of essential information on your website, whether that be for a donation, event on campus, or anything you can think of to promote. Creativity is appreciated as GIFS, still pictures and videos can illustrate a variety of Banners on your site.

Another tool that helps both visitors to the site are quicklinks. When a student looks to pay their tuition, a quicklink will take them directly to the tuition portal. This gives immediate access to desired pages without other distractions. This limits the time spent on a search results page and lets people find the content they need immediately.

Built with full accessibility and compliance in mind

Tackling the necessity of accessibility is essential for any site, especially in the case of college and universities that serve students with a variety of abilities and needs. Ensuring that your site is accessible to all users despite one’s abilities should be a top priority for your organization.

Students that have impairments should be able to search for and register for classes, look up materials at the campus library, and find necessary academic departments without any barriers with an accessible site.

The Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) is a document which evaluates how accessible a particular product is according to the Section 508 Standards. It is a self-disclosing document produced by the vendor which details each aspect of the Section 508 requirements and how the product supports each criterion.

Cludo has a VPAT in place, and our search platform can be ADA, Section 508 & WCAG 2.0 (Web Content Association Guidelines) compliant with necessary tools like reading and text highlighting tools, based on your website’s design. Plus, Cludo’s overlay and inline search templates are designed with accessibility in mind. They have been created to remove any barriers that a person with disabilities would have to otherwise deal with.

Looking at the big picture with analytics

Search analytics are a powerful tool for any organization. To put it simply, site search queries are visitors on your site speaking to you. It’s behavioral data that allows you to understand the immediate needs of your audience. Detailed analytics allow you to further cater to your visitors by giving them the content they need. This means that content can not only be found, but the content exists on your website in the first place.

In the context of university and college websites, for example, visitors may search for a specific scholarship. If information pertaining to the scholarship is difficult to find, it’s possible that it’s either hidden or it doesn’t exist. This should be a red flag for any site owner that actively monitors website activity. The corresponding department that handles scholarships should also be notified if users are unable to find this information. Cludo’s analytics will keep you updated if such a scenario were to occur on your website.

On the other hand, if certain classes or topics start to trend on search, you’ll be able to predict enrollment rates, or get ahead of the problem. In some cases these could also be negative-facing searches on an issue that is plaguing the campus. If a search terms starts to trend that has a negative impact, it’s a valuable opportunity to get ahead of it, and address it in a timely manner.

Analytics are also your primary tool to notify you of any content gaps. If classes, services and professors are missing from your university’s site, you’ll take note of it immediately. Cludo’s analytics informs you of users’ queries through trending key words and searches without results. Key words that are trending inform site owners of what’s popular on your site. This is a key analytic that encourages you to further promote prevalent content. Another prominent insight Cludo offers are searches without results, which reveal queries that turned up zero results for a user. This usually means that the content related to the query does not exist or the wording for the query does not match the exact results. Searches without results may seem bleak, but they can be remedied with helpful tools like boosting, synonyms, or by simply creating content to meet the expectations of your visitors.

Ineffective searches are also possible on your site which may drive visitors away from your site if they can’t find what they need. These types of searches usually are the result of low-click through rates. This means that a visitor’s search is not uncovering the content they want. Thankfully, the Ineffective Search tool can narrow down queries that aren’t performing well. This will help you limit lost opportunities, so you can fill content gaps on your website.

A better online experience for institutions of higher education

Cludo’s site search for higher education is built and designed for educational institutions that strive for academic excellence. With helpful tools to ensure your site visitors find exactly what they need, you’ll help your students and faculty achieve their immediate goals.

Cludo’s platform is the perfect replacement for an existing CMS platform search, and is one of the leading options for organizations looking for a Google Search Appliance Replacement.

Find out more on how you can create a better online experience by visiting Cludo’s Higher Education page. You can also easily test Cludo by creating a free self-service test account, or contact us directly to learn about our education discount program.

Since we love our customers in the higher education space, we’ll let Teri Williams, Director of Web Strategy at Boise State University have the last word: “I’d like to recognize the Cludo team for their responsiveness, hard work, and collaboration throughout the process- from vendor selection and contract, to development and support, they were with us every step of the way to meet the challenges of this project.”