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9 Tips for Turning Your Site Search into a Student Attraction Tool

For higher education institutions, the COVID-19 pandemic presented challenges not just in terms of maintaining curricula in a remote environment, but also in regards to forecasting enrollments and attracting future students.

Without in-person campus tours and the guarantee of international students, the digital presence of higher education institutions suddenly became critical in attracting domestic students.

For many, this meant all eyes were on their website, as a means to improve online visibility and encourage enrollments.

Will Noble

Written by

Will Noble
Head of Sales, North America - Squiz
24 August 2021

Site search: your hidden gem of student attraction 

A website overhaul, or even update, can be very exciting - journey mapping, wireframing and content building can fire up your organization’s creative juices. But one valuable feature of a new website that is often overlooked or just “bundled” in with the CMS implemented, is the search function.

For the most part, people will choose to use a free site search tool that comes with their CMS. But here’s the thing - the visitors using your site search are actually far more useful to you than your normal users; because they’re exhibiting more intent and they’ve got something specific in mind that they want to find.

That free tool isn’t going to offer you the insights about those valuable visitors that you need.

What are the benefits of site search in higher education?

With a custom-designed site search function, it’s possible to create a better experience for website visitors, as well as improved outcomes for your organization.

The benefits for prospective students:

  • Ease of discovery - the specific information they’re interested in, such as course, campus, application, or accommodation details, is easier for them to find.
  • Personalization - the search function can dynamically offer the most relevant content, speeding up their search time.
  • Insights-driven results - a single search can deliver results from across your website’s content library, extending the information they have access to.
  • More accessible information - the struggle of trawling your website for information and services is eliminated.

  • The benefits for the higher education institution: 

  • Increased user satisfaction - great site search makes for a better overall experience for visitors to your website.
  • Improved SEO rankings - search queries tell you exactly what visitors are looking for. Analyzing them can highlight new keywords you can utilize for SEO purposes.
  • Increased average visitor time - a happy visitor with access to a range of relevant information will undoubtedly stay on your website for longer, exploring the content you’ve identified as being of interest to them.
  • Lower cost of interactions - with a better site search function, you’ll need to spend less to attract students to the various pages of your site.
  • Reduced reputational risk - by enabling better signposting to information, you’ll avoid reputational risk since there’ll be no doubt about what you offer students.
  • Boost key marketing metrics - a better site search function will reduce bounce rates, improve time on page and, ultimately, better conversion rates.


    9 best practices for site search
  • Ensure search bar visibility.
  • Maintain accuracy and relevance.
  • Index all content across every site.
  • Enable ease of use for all search visitors.
  • Cater content to all audiencesPrioritise design.
  • Create a personalized experience.
  • Manage and maintain your content.
  • Understand & act on user behaviour.

  • 1: Ensure search bar visibility

    Using the search bar on a website to find and navigate to the right page quickly, is second nature to most digital consumers. Rather than trawling through pages, relying on the navigation provided, or checking out the site map, people now expect to be taken straight to the information or service they need with a quick word or phrase. With that in mind, it becomes clear how crucial it is that your search function is front and centre when a visitor lands on your homepage.

    2: Maintain accuracy and relevance

    We’ve all been there in that moment of frustration when you’re on a website, trying to find the answer to a question or access a service and you just cannot find it. Most of us will not stick around for long.

    In addition, according to a report by NNGroup, we have been ‘trained’ by Google into assuming the first three listings in our search results must be the most relevant. This means that anything further down in the list is going to be overlooked.

    So, why does that matter? It means you absolutely have to stay on top of the information your search function is throwing up for visitors to make sure they’re being served the most relevant pages for them and, with the right setup, the most beneficial outcomes for you.

    3: Index all content across every site

    Higher education institutions typically have a huge amount of content to offer their website visitors. From course guides to video tours, blogs and policies, there are thousands of resources your students could be looking for.

    You need to index the lot. Regardless of where it sits, if it’s still of use to students you need to make it available.

    4: Enable ease of use for all search visitors

    Today’s higher education websites are starting to catch up with the functionality we’ve seen for a while in e-commerce. One of the core features of an e-commerce site is the ability to enter a search term and then filter the results to find the page that is relevant. This ensures that whoever is visiting the site can find the product they are looking for with ease.

    Higher education institutions have a similarly broad range of visitors, including prospective students, current students, staff and alumni. They might be using the same keywords but the likelihood is they’re looking for different things. Your site search needs to be able to provide this functionality to ensure they stay on the website.

    5: Cater to all audiences 

    The words or phrases entered into your site search may not always be perfect. But we have all now become used to the likes of Google providing relevant search results despite inaccuracies in our spelling or phrasing.

    Using search insights, you can monitor for commonly misspelled words to ensure that when they are entered, the relevant page still shows as a result.

    6: Prioritise design 

    Design is incredibly important. Gone are the days when people were satisfied with a long list of links after entering their search terms. Research has shown that, if your search results look good, people will stick around longer.

    Make sure the design and layout of your page are consistent with the rest of your site and engaging for visitors.

    7: Create a personalized experience 

    Use data to apply context to searches and deliver relevant, personalized results to the visitor. If, for example, someone is searching for ‘Open day’ from overseas, it might be helpful to provide links to pages about online, virtual open days at the top of their results.

    8: Manage and maintain your content

    As multiple people add content to a website, and staff comes and goes, it can be common to see websites with multiple, outdated pages that now provide information that is not only out-of-date but could be misleading.

    Make sure you stay across your content, particularly on the pages that come up most frequently in search results.

    9: Understand & act on user behaviour

    Have you ever considered that your search results could offer you insights and ideas to help inform the content you create, the architecture of your website, and future marketing campaigns?

    Search visitors will type in exactly what they’re looking for when you come to your website. That is verbatim feedback about the information they want to receive from you. By regularly reviewing the search terms that are frequently coming up and developing content to address it, you will consistently deliver an engaging experience to visitors, while improving your SEO performance.

    Higher education institutions improving their site search with Squiz Funnelback 

    Creighton University

    “Funnelback provided support and customization and didn’t rest until we were satisfied. They were always very supportive and never lost their can-do attitude.”

    Kari Watts, Director of Web Strategy

    University of Edinburgh

    “We couldn’t have done anything like this without the reporting capabilities of Funnelback...with Google, it wasn’t even a possibility. That extra insight from Funnelback is extremely, extremely critical.”

    Stratos Filathisis, Head of Website & Communication Technologies

    American College of Physicians

    “Funnelback is big enough to have sufficient resourcing to invest in continual improvements to a remarkably powerful and well-engineered platform, yet small enough to get to know each customer.”

    Steve Spadt, Sr, Vice President, Technology

    British Columbia Institute of Technolgy

    “When we rolled out Funnelback, we kept the same look and feel of our previous customized interface, so any change in user experience was based on performance, and not design/usability.”

    Alan Etkin, Web Analyst, BCIT

    Would you like to discuss the health of your site search? Get in touch with the Squiz team! We’d love to talk about all things search, DXP and student experience.

    Will Noble

    Written by

    Will Noble
    Head of Sales, North America - Squiz
    24 August 2021

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