When higher ed met UX: The ascent of search in higher ed

mStoner and Funnelback ponder the future of search

We’ve partnered with mStoner - a powerhouse in higher education - for a webinar about the role of that little search bar on your site. Where did it come from? Why are institutions thinking about it now? Where is it headed?

Recent changes to website search are disrupting the way colleges and universities provide this fundamental feature that has an impact on every key audience.

Everyone is familiar with the frustration that comes with a bad search: unhelpful links,
digging through three pages of results, giving up, clicking the back button and trying Google again.

As a result, third-party site search is steadily coming into focus as a must-have feature. And it’s making a difference.

It wasn’t always this way.

When Funnelback started over a decade ago, search was often nothing more than an afterthought. It consisted of a small bar at the top corner of the home page and a rough system that indexed your pages - or at least the ones that had the right tags and robust metadata.

Then came the rise of social media, e-commerce and thousands of pages of multimedia and other digital content. There’s been a fundamental shift in the way people use the internet. Information retrieval has never been more important. More often than not, people already know what information they want to find.

From Ask Jeeves to Google, Amazon to Netflix, and everything in between, the search bar has evolved not only as a navigation tool, but a trustworthy place to start the information retrieval process. Higher Education websites are no exception.

Given its dominance on the greater web, many institutions naturally turned to Google for a solution to their site search using Custom Search or the Search Appliance. Most of these solutions are being phased out. Others are afterthoughts for Google, laden with advertising and impossible to customize. This increasingly leaves institutions wondering what’s next.

The short answer: It’s time for an upgrade.

Whether you’re conducting a complete search upgrade, integrating that search bar into your advertising campaigns and taking advantage of accessibility audits, or just implementing a like-for-like replacement of your failing Google solution, many institutions are looking to improve UX and functionality with better search.

For higher ed, this means integrating directories, programs, social media, courses, video and events into one single search solution. The look and feel of the search needs to match the rest of the site, and is also often customized for each department.

At the University of North Dakota, mStoner implemented Funnelback search as a major part of mStoner’s redesign project.

They started with a Funnelback for Higher Education implementation, which comes out-of-the-box with common customizations for higher ed like faceted navigation, filters, customization, promoted results and back-end analytics for the web team.

Now they’re seeing the results to match: A 97% increase in usage of the search bar, with over a third of clicks going to Funnelback-curated results that make your campaigns even more successful.

The future of search

Soon, the frustration from a bad search experience won’t ring a bell with your students and prospects.

Search technology is an exciting frontier, especially as search is integrated as part of a website, rather than a supplementary feature. Funnelback’s search technology can populate content on a site (known as Search Powered Content) and pair with complementary technology to drive truly proactive search and dynamic pages that best take advantage of your existing content repositories.

Particularly exciting for higher education are the opportunities to optimize accessibility and findability using voice search.

Let’s get creative

An institution might use an internal search solution like Funnelback to search across attendance records and automatically highlight students who are habitually absent from their classes, and could notify them of their proximity to student counseling services based on social media check-ins, perhaps assisting in lowering dropout rates. What about library database searches for overdue books that could prompt students with reminder notifications to pack the books in their bag before leaving their room?

By partnering with higher education, we’re excited to share the excitement and potential for search in the coming years.

Alexa, when can I get started?

Did you miss the webinar? You can access the recording and resources from mStoner + Funnelback here.

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