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Why search matters for your content

The way people look for content on the web is increasingly shifting towards search. That means if the goal is to get more people to the content, websites need to focus making sure their content is searchable.

On the UW-Madison campus, websites are often tied to mission and business goals and typically need to serve varying audiences, stakeholders and political prioritizations. It’s easy to consider certain types of content prioritized by the owners, but it’s a harder question to ask whether the content is prioritized for those who might use it.

As online trends increasingly show, the way people look for information is by searching with a search engine. Looking at analytics for it.wisc.edu, organic search mirrors that trend, growing from 36% in Fall 2016 to 45% in Fall of 2018, and is the leading source of web traffic. Organic search is traffic from search engines that is earned, and not paid for.

Infographic: Traffic sources on it.wisc.edu, notably showing the shift towards organic search over the last two years.

 

Organic Search
Infogram

That means if web content is expected to aid in fulfilling mission and business goals, creating findable content should be prioritized. Writing in plain language, creating clear page titles and cross linking are some of the ways to achieve better search results.

What should go on my navigation and homepage?

Through search content, another pattern that appears is users tend to be looking for something specific. No one asks Google to “tell them about all of different degrees they could take at UW-Madison.” Users are more likely to input something like “Engineering graduate programs UW-Madison”, a related but more specific inquiry.

This may alleviate some of the political challenges for web sites, particularly with the question, “what should go in my navigation?” While structured navigation is still an important function of a website, if the trend of more users searching for content continues, the need to make sure web content is findable through search should be a priority.

Then, using analytics tools like Google Analytics, websites can see what content is most used. That information can help inform what content might be helpful on a homepage, for users who know what site they want to visit, and prefer to navigate through the site.

One tool in the toolbox

Search is just part of the picture when developing findable content. There are other user experience tools to help figure out what users might need from a website, and there are folks on campus who can help.

Who can help?

DoIT now houses the Center for Digital Accessibility and User Experience, and can help with training to think strategically about online content to help meet mission and goals. More information on how the Center can help will be coming in the near future, but for immediate questions email: user-centered@lists.wisc.edu.

Definitions of traffic sources

Referral: Traffic that occurs when a user finds you through a site other than a major search engine
Social: Traffic from a social network, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or Instagram
Organic: Traffic from search engine results that is earned, not paid
Paid search: Traffic from search engine results that is the result of paid advertising via Google AdWords or another paid search platform
Email: Traffic from email marketing that has been properly tagged with an email parameter
Direct: Any traffic where the referrer or source is unknown, but often through a bookmark, or directly entering a URL.

– Adam Hills-Meyer, Content Strategist with the Center for Digital Accessibility and User Experience