You Asked, We Listened: Introducing the Archives New Site Search

For the past few months I've been walking around the office telling my coworkers my latest project was upgrading our site's search. In actuality the word "upgrading” wasn't really the best indication of what I was doing, "extreme overhaul" would have been a better fit.

The project really got kicked off in June when we started looking at the results from our website survey. Yes, we do read those! So if you happen to have one popup while your browsing our site, please fill it out and let us know how we're doing!

The thing that immediately stuck out when reviewing the surveys was that people were not overly happy with our site searching capabilities.

Our old site search was actually three separate searches that had been linked together with tabs to make them appear as one. This was done because some of our site content is actually stored in a separate database which has it's own way of searching.

Example of the previous Archives Site Search results page.

If one had typed "Wetmore" into the search box at the upper right hand corner of the page, they would have been presented with results of mostly blog posts and few pages from our Smithsonian history content. To find actual collection items related to Wetmore, one would have to click on one of the tabs (either collections or finding aids depending on what they were looking for) and load yet another page with the search results.

The process of searching was clunky, limited, and not terribly helpful for researchers. In fact we had three respondents say they would just use Google to search for pages on our site instead of using our actual site search. We had known the search wasn't very good, but the survey results opened our eyes to how much higher a priority fixing it had to be.

Our site search now relies on one search, which is powered by a Google Search Appliance, with a contributed Drupal module and custom module providing the wiring to hook the site up to the Search Appliance.

Now performing a search for "Wetmore" will provide you with not just blog posts and pages, but also anything else on our site related to your search (collection guides, images, chronologies, legal documents, etc.) To paraphrase J. R. R Tolkien, we now have "one search to find them."

Example of the new Archives Site Search, showing results for

The Google Search Appliance also indexes metadata for us. Not only does the metadata get factored into our searches, which provides more accurate searching, but we can also filter off of the metadata. The result is the ability for our site visitors to now filter based on subject, creator, and date ranges.

Certain keywords are also flagged to provide suggested search results. During the process of rewriting our search, we looked at our top site search queries. We paired each of those searches up with pages that provide general information on the subject of the search. Using the same example I used before of a search for "Wetmore" (who was the sixth Smithsonian Secretary.), it will provide the user with a light grey box containing a link to Alexander Wetmore's biography along with a brief excerpt from that page.

But let's say you just did a search for an item that you know is in the Smithsonian's collection, but it turns out it isn't in the Archives. What then? Are you doomed to search all of the other Smithsonian Units until you find that one collection item your looking for? Not at all! On most of our site search results there will be a link to the Smithsonian Collection Search Center (it's located in the left column under the date range filter). If our search doesn't have what you’re looking for, there's a good chance it exists somewhere in the Smithsonian.

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