UMN Search: Introducing the U's Search Results Interface
Search is an important method used to find information online. Over half of the visitors to a website choose to use search instead of navigation.
Usability studies conducted across multiple University sites in 2015-16 show that our visitors are easily confused by varying search designs and inconsistent search results. That confusion, in part, can be caused by the following:
- Three main ways to view/use search results at the U—the web header search bar, search.umn.edu, and umn.edu/lookup
- More than one search field on a website
- Unspecified origin of search results—systemwide, Twin Cities, unit-specific, etc.
- Changing presentation/design from site to site
In an effort to improve the U search experience, a number of design changes and search result features have been incorporated into an interface that should be used by all University websites. Guidelines are provided in this self-help guide for units to update their sites in ways that can improve the quality of search results for visitors across the University.
Search.umn.edu and the results pages this search produces have been updated with a new design that somewhat mirrors Google. This interface has also been configured for use by University units.
Filters—Filters, much like our old tabs on tabbed search results, are being added incrementally and, when finished, will include Web, People, Maps, and Department Directory
Google Search Appliance (GSA)—The new search interface is run through the Google Search Appliance. Doing that gives us the ability to use features that we’ve not incorporated before and it streamlines the search process on the backend.
GSA Features—Search results are sporting some features available by using the GSA that include the “Narrow Your Search” results, query suggestion and query expansion, OneBoxes, and related queries. Definitions of these features and how we’re using them can be found in the self-help guide.
What’s Gone or Different?
Tabbed Search—Tabbed search is being phased out. In its place, unit search results will be biased to show the unit’s results first and the campus results next. This kind of display makes it possible for unit results to rise to the top of the page and for TC campus results to rise up when there are no good search results on the unit’s site. Use the Campus Climate search to see an example of how this works.
People Search Results—Like tabbed search results, the first three people search results still display when doing a web search, and you can quickly and easily go to the full list of people search results from the web results page. Similar to the former people search, search results for people can be conveniently filtered in a number of ways. Filters can be specified by campus, by affiliation (role), and by department.
Directory Search Results—Department Directory search results are also easy to find using the new search. A “Departments” link is at the top of the page along with the “Web” and “People” links.
KeyMatches—KeyMatches no longer display separately from other search results. These matches are still at the top of the results list, but blend in with the rest of the results. A process for requesting keymatches at the campus and system level is now available.
Update Your Unit’s Search Results Interface—One way to help minimize search confusion at the U is to standardize the search results pages across all websites. Units are strongly encouraged to use the U’s search results interface, documented in this self-help guide.
Google Search Appliance (GSA)—Use of the GSA is required to use the recommended search results interface. Without use of the GSA, units using the new interface can only display their campus’ search results. See the Search Interface Options for more information.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)—Making search better at the U is about more than changing the appearance of the search results. All units have a responsibility to create and maintain websites that follow SEO standards and best practices. Doing so will improve your unit’s search results not only in the U’s search but in Google.com as well.