Can you find what you’re looking for?

Yesterday Sam and I went to a talk organised by MERIT and presented by Jan Klin titled “Advanced Search Engine Marketing – A Fast Track Approach to the Google Top Spot”. Now, I’d admit that I’ve always considered SEO a bit of a dark art and people specialising in it had something of the Derek Trotter about them, but yesterday’s talk was genuinely interesting. Jan talked through a process of auditing your site, identifying key phrases and targets and only then modifying your pages to be optimised.

While SEO in a university environment might not be quite as important as businesses who are selling products and services (unless you believe students are customers) we do need to ensure that people are able to find what they’re looking for on our sites. We can certainly do more in describing our pages and ensuring that site visitors find pages appropriate to what they’re looking for rather than just landing on the homepage and being left to browse the site themselves.

This is something that we’ll be looking at more in the future and building into new developments from the outset but in the mean time if you’ve had trouble finding something on our website, please do tell us – post a comment below or email the webteam – and it will help us identify areas for improvement.

Google universal search

Google announced yesterday that they’ll be launching “universal search” where results from video, images, books, maps and so on will be blended into web search results. This has been around for a little while in the form of the “onebox” – a few image results or products shown at the top of the page – but in the future these results will be right in the main listings.

With a significant proportion of our site visitors finding the Edge Hill website using Google (information that’s easy to find with the new Google Analytics interface!), this is potentially a big change in the ordering of results. While I would expect that the top result will still be our home page, we might see video results from YouTube and Google Video starting to sneak in lower down. The Google interface will be tweaked slightly to bring more attention to other types of search result through a bar across the top showing all their services and a bar just above the search results showing search services which are likely to find what you’re looking for. With users much more likely to go looking for these other types of page it raises new SEO challenges to get our heads around.

Analysis on the doorstep!

I think it’s fair to say that the analysis of web traffic is a somewhat neglected aspect of our service. Whilst we endeavour to use web stats to inform decisions regarding the usability and information for our website I certainly feel we could/should do a lot more with the information. The difficulty has always been with regard to “lack of available resources” and as a consequence search engine optimisation and web statistics analysis is always on our ‘wish’ rather than ‘to do’ lists.

Thanks to Google Analytics though I’m now confident we can do a lot more with less. We’ve been using the Google Analytics tool for several months and it’s providing some really useful data about the behaviour of our users. Whilst we have used a stats package for many years, Google Analytics gives us more comprehensive data in a much more usable format.

As has been the case for many years the majority of our users come directly to our site or by typing “edge hill” (or a variant of) through the Google search engine. In one sense that’s a positive – in terms of marketing and PR – people know about us and look for us so they come to the site for more information. On the other hand though we could certainly improve our web marketing to ensure that more users find their way to the course provision listed on the Edge Hill website without directly looking for us. Whilst we structure content to facilitate this the statistics provided by Google Analytics do help us identify areas for improvement.

Internally we have been discussing some of these issues for a while and work is on-going to utilise the information provided to inform future marketing campaigns (both on and off-line). So an email from Mike this morning stating that a new and even better version of Google Analytics was on it’s way was very welcome!

I’ve had a look at the demo for the new product and I’m very impressed. The new version appears to offer a much greater level of functionality and my favourite bit – automated reports. The ability to customise and automate reports will be extremely useful for us as without a dedicated resource to plough through information it’s always an onerous task. The Google Analytics blog gives details of the new features and expected release . In a resource limited team and in an increasingly competitive environment, I for one will look foward to trying it out.

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