This week, Finalsite will move from our current Google-based site search to an all new search platform that will give us more control and more options over site search performance.
Why are we moving away from Google?
Over the years, Google has transitioned from a search engine to primarily an ad company with a strong search product. Continuing to use Google search poses two main uses for our schools:
First, in a few weeks, Google will begin including paid ads on all search results pages powered by their technology. Needless to say, we feel that this wouldn't provide our schools or their website visitors with the best experience.
Second, Google search relies on indexing publicly-available content in advance, and so it can never be extended to search private content. Google site search also cannot control how often sites are indexed, so it only ever covers public content (never anything behind a password), and is always subject to some arbitrary time delay.
What happens to search on my school's website?
The initial release of the new search platform will simply replicate the existing functionality of the Google search, and should not be noticed by website visitors. In preparation for the switch, you will notice that the "Hide from search engines" setting has relocated to the "General" tab, and we've added a new "Hide from internal site search" option.
Before we go live with the new search, we first have to "index" all the content on all of our clients' sites, effectively creating a copy of all page content. The new search platform will rely on this offline, optimised copy of the data, which means searching will be incredibly fast. As you edit your content, we will update the index in real-time, meaning that as you change content, it will be immediately available for searching by visitors to your website - no more waiting for Google to re-crawl your site pages!
After the new search tool goes live this weekend, we will be following up with some "Advanced Search" features. We are still hashing out the specifics, but the ones we're looking at right now include:
- "Instant search" - also known as "autocomplete," this feature returns results immediately as your users type; this will also allow for some pretty cool design options
- Searching private content - obviously there will have to be some thought about how this is implemented and who can use it, but it will be possible to extend search indices to cover content that's behind a password
- Ability to manage alternate search terms and page rankings, and to view search analytics
Search is one of those tools that often works well enough that users can simply forget about how sophisticated it really is, and we expect that the new search tools will let site admins take advantage of that sophistication to offer visitors new ways to interact with their sites. The new search platform will roll out to all users with this weekend's release.