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The dial and the destination: evidence in product development

I’ve been thinking about the ways in which we align our digital products with wider strategic direction, and how we can measure whether the changes we make are working for our users and customers. In particular, I’ve been considering how we can make data-informed decisions about the University’s search service.

Dial and destination

We’re currently working to make our search engine into a University business service. This will enable enhanced support for the service as it stands, and greater visibility for the future of the service at the University.

To do this, we need to develop agreements about how the service should act, and provide a roadmap so that partners can align with future direction for digital products. We’ll publish those once ready.

IT and library business service catalogue

Strategic thinking

I recently attended the University’s “Thinking and acting strategically” course, and a key takeaway for me was the importance of KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) as both a dial and a destination for product improvement.

Measurements of a service’s performance lets us know how we’re doing now (like a speedometer dial); but can also act as a target for improvement (our GPS end point).

Thinking and acting strategically

Key metrics for search

So with that in mind, what kind of measurements are appropriate for the University search engine? I need to think about the profile of our search users a little more before finalising our indicators, but I’m currently considering:

  • time on site with/without search
  • click depth in the search results
  • frequency of search revision
  • and an indicator of task completion rates (applications for courses/jobs, registration for events and so on)

This last of these will require liaison with key stakeholders, and to work with our community of web publishers to establish what is actually useful to them. The others are already available from Google Analytics, as I’ve detailed previously.

Search analytics – understanding user engagement

The other factor I will consider is a more subjective one, but very important: it’s a study of how the search engine is performing based on running previous search terms and analysing the results. I’ll be speaking about this topic at the Squiz Summit Edinburgh next month, and will be sure to write that up once the session is over.

Squiz Summit Edinburgh, November 2019

Managing search

As ever, if there’s something that you want to find out about the University’s search service, or something that’s always bothered you about how search engines work – get in touch, I’m sure we can work together to get the right solution for you.

Website search – University of Edinburgh website

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