In digital, the term ‘silo’ is rarely positive. In order for a digital experience to work well, it needs to be seamless, fast and, most of all, accessible. If content or data is siloed, it’s quite literally isolated and inaccessible, which makes navigating and searching for content very difficult.
But for universities and higher education institutions, where siloed web content is common (and, often, a necessity), it’s still possible to overcome the potential challenges caused by content silos and create an accessible, highly searchable site.
Understanding Siloed Content
Firstly, it’s important to understand the difference between a silo and a category.
Categorizing content is not only helpful but a necessity – in fact, indexing content is key to helping search crawlers to identify which content to deliver in search results.
Silos, on the other hand, are inaccessible to searchers and block content completely. According to Karen Pernice of the Nielson Norman Group, a silo can be defined as:
Content in a silo (or walled-off content) that’s difficult to discover and find. The content may be walled off in multiple ways:
- Not accessible via the search function
- Absent from the global navigation and sub-navigation
- Hidden based on the user’s role, due to personalization
- Protected by a login wall
Silos and the Student Experience
Unfortunately, university websites tend to be more prone to content silos simply due to the nature of the content they offer. Personal student information, grade results, different department portals, and social media groups are highly likely to require some form of login or gateway that will result in content being siloed – and often, rightly so!
Problems arise when unnecessary silos occur and highly useful information becomes inaccessible to students searching for it – whether as a result of multiple software licenses or poor integration into the overall architecture of your site. Often, even fairly standard information on higher education websites will require users to perform a series of tasks, such as:
- Logging into multiple portals
- Refining search terms several times
- Navigating through multiple links
- Visiting a different website altogether (e.g. a social media page)
“Learners seek answers to basic questions, such as tuition costs and campus life, but most schools bury that information -- and many students haven't figured out how to find it.” - Emily Tate, Inside Higher Ed
What Students Want
Most of your prospective students, current students, and recent alums come from the generation of digital natives. The benchmark for ultra-intuitive, user-friendly experiences, set by the likes of Netflix, Facebook, and Amazon, means that most students expect to arrive at your site and be able to find what they need quickly and easily – ideally from the home page or search function.
“The UX of web services (desktop and mobile) is everything. Can students do what they want to do without having to have been at your university for the past decade?” - Eric Stoller, Inside Higher Ed
The key to a good student search experience is enabling them to find any (non-sensitive) information they need quickly – regardless of where it sits within your website architecture. Information about financial support, campus events, course offerings, degree plans, and departments should all be accessible through the home page’s main navigation or through site search.
The Solution: Custom Site Search
In higher education, the reality is that some content silos are inescapable. Integrating content from multiple systems tends to be a lengthy and expensive process – a luxury many institutions simply can’t justify, particularly when a far simpler alternative exists.
A leading-edge site search can provide a holistic solution to the majority of UX problems that arise from silos and confusing site navigation. To meet the needs of higher ed institutions, an onsite search must be able to:
- Unify content across silos
- Account for human error in search
- Suggesting relevant results, even with vague search terms
- Offer personalized results depending on the user
- Keep sensitive information safe by differentiating between faculty, staff, prospective students, current students, and alums
When it ticks these boxes, custom site search can dramatically improve your findability and student search experience, even when content silos are still in place.
To offer students the experience they expect and need, make it easy for them to find what they want — no matter where it’s housed on your site