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Memo details Web site search upgrade

Gannettoid.com | news@gannettoid.com | Posted: Oct. 23, 2009 • Afternoon report

Gannett Digital is in the process of improving the site search feature on its Web sites for its newspaper and broadcast properties.

In a memo sent Thursday and obtained by Gannettoid.com, Kevin Poortinga said some sites will begin launching the changes soon, but the larger deployment will continue through the first quarter of 2010.

Poortinga, the general manager of product development for Gannett Digital, said the changes are a reaction to feedback on the "dislike for the compartmentalized search format" currently used.

Here is the memo:

Launch: New site search
Poortinga, Kevin

Sent: Thursday, October 22, 2009 8:08 PM
To: Publishers/Newspaper Operating Unit Heads (USCP Only); Broadcast General Managers; Broadcast General Sales Managers; Broadcast News Directors;Advertising Executives; GannettOnlineList; Editors of Gannett Daily Newspapers; Editors2 of Gannett Daily Newspapers; GCI-Market Development Directors
Cc: Gannett Digital - Corporate (ALL); Saridakis, Chris; Connell, Tara; Carroll, Jennifer; David Lenzen PLD; Fuschetti, Steve; Dickey, Robert; Dubow, Craig;Horning, Roxanne; Hunke, David; Lougee, Dave; Martore, Gracia; Mayman, Todd; Pence, Robin

GannettDigital is pleased to announce the upcoming release of a new streamlined search experience for the core sites of our local newspaper and broadcast markets.

Internal search is one of the most vital strategies to a successful user experience, and we’re excited to take this platform to the next level. Pilots will be launching soon with an upcoming deployment continuing through Q1 of next year.

What will improve, and why?

Design of the results page: We’ve listened and responded to user and market feedback about their dislike for the compartmentalized search format. Google’s default view – one wide column plus right rail – has become the de facto standard. We’ve streamlined the results’ design to conform more closely to users’ expectations.
Focusing on what users are really looking for: The overwhelming majority of our audience uses site search to find one of two things: (a) professional content (recent or archived; blogs or articles) or (b) a section of our site (obituaries, classifieds, garage sales, etc.). Accordingly, you will see changes to our recommendations on what content belongs in the primary results set.
Speed: Another benefit of focusing the site is to reduce the number of calls on our results pages, which will help improve overall page performance (another concern heard frequently from our users).
Perceived relevancy: Currently, our results do not highlight why an article was returned based on a user’s keywords; this contributes to user dissatisfaction and confusion. We’ve fixed the issue by bolding keywords within the results set and presenting the portion of the article that contains the user’s keywords.
Video and photo results pages: We have added two prominent links at the top of our search pages that users can use to switch out the content of the results from articles to photos or videos.
• No keywords / advanced / recirculation page: A fair share of the traffic to our search pages comes from users who don’t enter any keywords but still click the "go" or "search" button. We’ve directed this query to a new page that includes suggestions for the user on where to click next, such as the site index, "most popular" or "most recent" searches.
A note about site search maintenance: A facelift and feature improvements are still no substitute for maintenance and auditing of market feeds and manually programmed links. We will be recommending a quarterly audit with PlanetDiscover to maintain clean and clear results for our users.
Google search sponsored links: We are days from closure on a deal with Google to power sponsored links; these keyword-targeted advertisements provide relevant results for our users, which should mean much higher click-through rates and revenues.

Where can I see this in action? The experience, sans Google sponsored links, has been deployed at IndyStar.com. http://search.indystar.com/sp?aff=10008&keywords=boilermakers&sortBy=date. Results have been highly positive since launch. The primary metric we are examining is site exit rate from the initial results page; for Indianapolis, this went from 33% to less than 20%. The Star also experienced a dramatic decrease in the number of complaints about site search post-launch.

What’s next? Gannett Digital’s project management team will follow up with the deployment details after the successful deployment of our pilot sites.  We are considering this a “medium” level of effort, as markets should be doing significant testing with Planet Discover to verify the results and experience for local users.

My contact info: (removed)

Note: We are transitioning this platform to be championed by Marcie Baetcke, who many of you know from Gannett’s exciting SEO initiatives, but while those are heavily underway, you can direct queries my way.

About the author: Kevin Poortinga is the general manager of product development for GannettDigital Media Network.
What I do: Product development has two primary functions: improving user experiences and growing the opportunities of Gannett’s site solution platforms (video, e-mail, SEO, site search, 1:1 marketing, social tools, etc.)
Past work: Kevin has been with Gannett since 2000, with most of his time in Indianapolis, where he served in a variety of roles, from editorial creative direction to managing the development of new digital products, magazines and weeklies. Kevin moved to GannettDigital in July 2008 as the general manager of the product lab.


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