January 27, 2012

Search engine redesign explained by New Media

After gathering significant feedback from on- and off-campus test groups, the New Media team has redesigned the search engine for the Lewis & Clark website.

After gathering significant feedback from on- and off-campus test groups, the New Media team has redesigned the search engine for the Lewis & Clark website.

The improvements include tabs that group results into helpful categories, such as news and events, and filters that can limit search parameters to find results specific to each school.

The design is not yet final. Director of New Media David McKelvey has added a feedback feature and encourages users to submit suggestions for future improvements.

The Source sat down with McKelvey to find out more.

Who was involved in the user testing and how did the testing inform the redesign?

In addition to the ongoing testing performed by our work-study student Ben Whitehead ’15, we did two rounds of user testing, one informal and one formal. The informal round came first, when we opened up the beta engine to the Office of Public Affairs and Communications for review.

For the formal round, we asked some faculty and staff members to use a machine that recorded their interactions with the beta search engine. That was highly informative. After watching the videos of their experiences, we changed how we prioritized features. Thanks to Karen Gross, Peter Drake, Moira Domann, and PubCom’s own Tom Krattenmaker for being our user testers in that round.

We will continue user-testing the search engine, particularly when we release new features. If you are interested in being a tester, please e-mail us at wwwadmin@lclark.edu.

New Search Engine Why did you decide to create separate tabs and why did you choose to label them Everything, People, Pages, News, Events, and Google?

The previous search engine had columns called Pages, News, and People. We wanted to add columns for events and Google results, but the former layout would not easily accommodate these additions. Anecdotal evidence also strongly suggested that many searchers weren’t finding the People results when these were displayed in the far-right column, so we needed to make them more obvious.

We examined a lot of other college and university search engines. Sadly, we found most were unsatisfactory. New York University’s search engine was an exception. NYU has some good ideas at work. Pieces of our new result styles and the tabs are inspired by their interface.

How does the Everything search tab differ from the Google search tab?

There are many small differences. The big difference is that Everything includes people listings. Google cannot produce these results, since that data comes from our central Lewis & Clark people database.

Is New Media planning to add more tabs in the future to search for content like images, video, or maps?

Yes. Much will depend on the feedback of users. If there is interest, or if the need arises, we can add new tabs or change existing ones. This is one of the great things about building our own search engine—the Lewis & Clark community can help determine its design.

Why should people use the Lewis & Clark search engine instead of Google?

It’s not an either/or situation. The key is to think about what you’re searching for and to use the search tool best suited to giving you the kind of results you need. Our engine will outperform Google for searches that rely on data specific to Lewis & Clark—that is, for searches involving people, organizational units, keywords, and recommended results. Google will probably beat our home-grown search engine when the search terms are ambiguous. To make it easier for the Lewis & Clark community to run Google searches, we have built a Google tab right into our new results display.

Can people use search-engine shortcuts, such as quotation marks or an asterisk?

Yes, our search engine lets you use Boolean operators (quotes, parentheses, and so on) for more control over search results. And, like Google, our search engine recognizes keywords, allowing you to find more targeted results. For example, try a search with lastname:mckelvey in the search box.

Ex: http://search.apps.lclark.edu/everything/lastname:mckelvey

Is it possible to refine searches to certain areas of the website like The Source?

It will be soon. We’re close to finishing that feature. In the meantime, if you want to find a Source article about someone, you might try his or her last name combined with “Source” in the search box. (Click the News tab for even better results.)

Are there any plans to create a faculty/staff directory to replace the legacy site’s campus directory?

Yes. This new engine has the necessary code in place, but we still need to create the user interface. Look for future announcements. Until then, the old campus directory will remain online and available to users.

Ex: http://search.apps.lclark.edu/people/title:professor

Is there a way to tell the new search engine to allow for spelling errors?

There is no need for the user to do anything special—the search engine will make suggestions automatically when it finds probable alternatives.

What should people do if a search doesn’t seem to work?

Tell us! Either use the built-in feedback button or e-mail us. We will use your specific experience to improve the engine’s results.