Google Mini Issues

We’ve mentioned a few times in meetings around Campus that we’re tracking search volume on our Google Mini. Our plan has been to use the last year’s data to see how the new website impacted visitor’s abilities to find different things. In other words, if for the last year everyone searched for “Schedule”, and now suddenly no one searches for “Schedule”, we can assume that we succeeded in making Schedule more visible. On the other hand, if no one used to search for “Moodle”, and now suddenly everyone is searching for “Moodle”, we know it’s hard to find Moodle.

We also tried to make the MegaMenu as small and as lightweight as possible, to make it load as quickly as possible. Right now the entire Megamenu uses about 30k – less than your average Internet Cat Picture.

Picture of a cat in a hollowed out computer monitor, with the caption 'I'm in your internet, clogging your tubes" (spelled wrong)
For example, this picture uses 31k.

But unfortunately, when we put these two things together – a super optimized mega menu and a desire to track search engine statistics – something broke.

The Google Mini has different collections. For example, we have a collection that searches just our COPPS documents. The biggest collection is the default collection, which searches all the pages in the index (all collections, plus pages not in any other collection). When you search the Mini, a bunch of parameters are sent in with your query, telling the Mini which collection to use, which set of styles to apply, etc. If you omit all of these parameters, search still works – the default collection is searched and you’re shown your results in the default front end. I assume that also meant that the searches were logged as belonging to the default collection.

Unfortunately, it turns out this is not the case. Here’s a streamgraph of our search traffic:

Search volume to Lane, showing varying ups and downs throughout the year, then a sudden dropoff for the last two weeks
428/12 – 4/13/13

See that real small area on the right hand side, where traffic falls off a clif? For the last two weeks searches were correctly logged in the search engine, but are not given to the default collection for inclusion in search reports – effectively making them invisible to us.

We added the hidden parameters to the search bar in the MegaMenu, and verified today that we’re seeing an 800% increase in search traffic in reports over what we saw yesterday. Apparently those parameters are not as optional as I thought.

In a way, this error isn’t a big deal. Right after launch, we expected a surge in search traffic as people searched for things before getting comfortable with the new layout. So we’d always anticipated throwing out the last two weeks of data in our analysis. But as a bit of a data nerd, I’m always sad when any data is lost, and we’ve had a hard time interpreting how people are interacting with the new site.

I’d also like to point out that we added the MegaMenu to the search results page. If you search for something via the search engine and discover that you’re not getting the results you want, you can also try AskLane from the search box on the MegaMenu. Of course, we’d also encourage you to submit some search feedback to us (the form moved to the bottom right), so we can try to improve the search engine to give you better results.

Two final notes. If you ever find yourself managing a Google Mini, and pulling your hair out because the new XSLT you applied isn’t rendering your new styles, it’s because you need to add &proxyreload=1 to a search string, to clear the style cache. Second, this weekend we’ll swapping www and www2 (don’t worry – all links will continue to work regardless which one you use), and as part of that we’ll be resetting the search engine index. That should clear out a lot of old pages that aren’t really relevant any more, and are no longer linked, but are still out there on our old web server. It’ll take most the weekend to rebuild the index, but hopefully next week you’ll get even better search results.