We're a Google-ized world.
Our years of interviewing association members has lead us to many interesting anecdotal revelations about how association can build more meaningful websites. The most revealing truth is that most association members don't turn to their association's website when they want industry information.
Of course, they turn to Google.
What we've learned as well is that, as a derivative from this “Google first” mindset, many users bypass the website navigation and favor the site's search box.
This means the search box on your association’s website is more important than ever before. It needs to be easy to find on your home page, have robust functionality and provide meaningful filtering options.
Does your site search pass muster? Don’t find out the hard way by gradually losing site visitors and the engagement of your valued members online.
Here are 3 ways to improve your site search today
Write for Noobs. Not Gurus.
If someone is using search, it’s because they don’t already know exactly what they are looking for. Or they may just know a piece of the problem. This also means they may not know your industry jargon or lingo.
Be sure to include plain language in your content so someone searching for this information can find it. Think like someone new to your industry and what they would search for to find a piece of information. Include that verbiage in your headlines and sub-heads as well as body copy so your search indexes will rank that content higher.
A good source to figure this out is to start with your Google Webmaster Tools and reviewing the terms people are searching for in order to find your site in the first place (remember what we said about this being a Google-ized world?). Another good source is www.plainlanguage.gov – the federal government’s website dedicated to using plain language in all government business (which is actually a federal law).
Meta Data Matters
Make sure every page and content item has adequate, accurate and relevant meta data including:
- Title Tag – A descriptive name of the page, document or content item (e.g. “ORG Name 2015 Annual Report.pdf” instead of “2015report.pdf”)
- Description Tag – A brief description of the content that tells the user what it is. This description should be no more than 160 characters long.
Other data that you may be able to provide includes a short summary, the author, or the date it was published or updated.
There is an added benefit to providing this information – it also improves your presence with Search Engine Optimization (SEO) overall. This meta data will be used to index and display search results in public search such as Google. For those users who do only a Google search, your efforts will help them find your specific content and lead them directly to your best resources.
Categorize and Classify
If your CMS has taxonomy functionality, be sure to add categories to each piece of content. This will not only help the search functionality in returning results, but will allow for your CMS vendor to implement faceted search (for more about faceted and filtered search, check out this article from the NN Group).
If you have ever shopped on Amazon.com, you are familiar with faceted search, which applies filters based on specific areas of the site or specific subjects. Usability studies show users prefer this type of search functionality as it allows them to start with a broad search and narrow down based on predefined criteria.
An option this allows for is that users can filter search results by a particular product or area of the website or to filter by content type. Two examples from Vanguard Technology projects include search results for APICS showing filtering by website sections and an option to have faceted search by content type in the site for the Independent Insurance Agents of Texas.
The Bottom Line
Site search is one of the most important parts of your association website, but it requires a commitment to the content and the details to make it work. By focusing on good content, meta data and categories you can instantly improve the results of your site’s search functionality.