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Improving search on your website: the quest for meaningful web content

21 January 2020

We live in revolutionary times where information has become both a valuable commodity and a resource. With the unstoppable rise of technology and the web, even the smallest purpose-led organisation has more ability than ever to share content that can be quickly and easily disseminated and made available to audiences worldwide via the web.

But, as with every opportunity, there are still challenges to overcome; how do we direct our website visitors to what they are looking for? How do we design and build websites that are intuitive, efficient and accessible to promote content discovery and consumption of your message?

The answer may be simpler than you think, and it starts and ends with your website.

1. Discover what matters

We recently worked with IFEX, the leading global network of organisations defending and promoting the right to freedom of expression and information.

To understand what mattered, we started with a discovery process to identify several stakeholders that were representative of their diverse audience and could express the challenges they faced. This was no mean feat as their audience includes 100+ members, the public, donors, specialised media and researchers across 70 countries around the world.

The IFEX stakeholder insights were invaluable and quantified, from a user perspective, some key requirements and challenges, including the need to:

  • Create an intuitive design that was accessible and inclusive for all
  • Improve site navigation
  • Promote content discovery across over 70,000 articles
  • Enhance the ability to find and search content, quickly and efficiently
  • Facilitate multiple languages for a broad international readership

Many of these problems are not unique and will resonate with content-led organisations across many sectors. Each point informs us of a key truth, that the user is our primary concern for success.


2. Leveraging the power of search

With smartphones and the rise of social media serving up a plethora of user generated content, users now demand powerful search on every website they visit.

In the case of IFEX, the original search function had poor functionality and often resulted in visitors leaving without the information they were looking for. To respond to this, we implemented Algolia elastic search function.

Algolia is a hosted search engine offering full-text, numerical, and faceted search, capable of delivering real-time results from the first keystroke, and delivering relevant results anywhere in the world in under 100ms.

Utilising this type of search for IFEX allowed deep content exploration and yet was almost twice as fast as before, giving instant search results from more than 150,000 pieces of content.

This search function also had the benefit of offering instant search, displaying matching results as the user types while also being intelligent enough to catch any typos as the user enters their search term. A seemingly small, but significant detail.

Our search centric approach served IFEX users with a powerful search experience and gave the IFEX team tools to analyse the impact of those experiences to refine them rapidly, measuring and evolving based on their objectives.

3. Delivering for your audience

It’s easy to get carried away with unnecessary (albeit fancy) bells and whistles when designing a website. Ultimately it’s all about your audience so it’s important to maintain a focus on user feedback, and respond directly with solutions.

From the IFEX discovery process, we gained a strong insight into the content hierarchy from which we established an intuitive ‘magazine-style’ website built using WordPress. The updated design was more intuitive and clearly directed the user to the pages most relevant to them, whilst removing clutter to showcase content and putting search front and centre.

Ifex's website

We also employed WCAG AA standards for accessibility and added WordPress multi-language (WPML) functionality to serve the international readership of IFEX, making the content available in English, Spanish, French and Arabic.

Implementing these changes was a significant improvement and fulfilled the user need that had really shouted at us from the discovery phase – the need to offer IFEX users a simple yet powerful solution that facilitated navigation of their 70,000 articles and 150,000 content pieces.

The results

We worked really hard on solving the organisational challenges facing IFEX and of course, we think the results are great! But as always we think it best to give our clients the final verdict:

“The design that Wholegrain Digital created for us is accessible, very clean and simple and makes it clear for our visitors where to find the information they want. It also offers us lots of flexibility, especially on the homepage, for how we want to present ourselves to the world.When we first saw the proposed homepage design we thought it looked familiar, but fresh. This was important to us because we want our long-time visitors to recognize the IFEX brand.”

– Erin Woycik, Content specialist, IFEX.

At Wholegrain Digital we love to work with organisations aligned to our ethos of sustainability and business for good , find out more about us here.

Photo: Skitterphoto on Pexels

Gary James

account manager , Wholegrain Digital

Gary works as an account manager at Wholegrain Digital, helping clients to achieve strategic success and web sustainability through collaborative business relationships.