Improving search results for finding programmes | part 3


This is the third article in a series documenting the processes and steps we take towards improving and innovating our product. By understanding the student journey in and out, we’ll show how a platform can be built that is valuable to students and agile to the demands of international education.

Stay tuned and see the various insights we continue to gain as we continue to build, adapt, and create the biggest education search platform, bringing absolute transparency and reliability to international education.

Part III: Search results

When students visit our portals, they use the search bar to find, discover, and select the degree programmes they’re most interested in. The way it works is, the student – let’s call her Mary – goes onto the main homepage, finds the search bar, and enters what she’s interested in studying. Ideally, once she puts in the name of the degree programme or subject she’s interested in pursuing, Mary can find hundreds of options relevant to the search term she entered.

However, there’s one problem. Let’s suppose Mary is certain that she wants to study a field related to climate and weather. But, what happens if she doesn’t know that the name of that discipline is defined as Environmental Studies and Earth Sciences? Will she have trouble finding a degree programme that matches her interests? Will the search turn up ‘no results’ just because she didn’t specify the official discipline name?

Luckily for Mary, our developers have adapted and adjusted our search algorithm in a manner that will also accommodate a wider range of search terms.

As you can see in this image above, even when Mary enters the phrase “climate and weather,” the search page will still use those terms to generate relevant results. She can still see, right underneath those terms, degree programmes that are still relevant to her. They are precisely the programmes she is interested in, teaching exactly the topic she wants to study.

Understanding user behaviour

Because many of us have worked within higher education for a long time, it’s easy to forget what the average user knows and understands. What may be intuitive to you, may not necessarily be so obvious to students who are attempting to go to university for the first time.

At the same time, we’ve discovered that a large percentage of students begin their education search by starting with the subject before anything else. That is, their main interest is in finding something that matches what they want to study, rather than, for example, where they want to study.

In fact, based on a study we conducted last year, we discovered that 62% of users overall begin their search by looking directly at the subject or discipline they are most interested in.

Yet, what we’ve also realised over the years is: student visitors and clients prefer an easier, smarter search field that can better predict or anticipate what they’re looking for.

For example, if I knew I wanted to visit the city where the first Philips Factory is, but I couldn’t remember the name of the city (or even that it was originally called Philips Lightbulb Factory), I would hope that Google would be able to anticipate what I was asking. (By the way, that city is Eindhoven – the location of our headquarters!)

Our search engine should be just as sophisticated. By incorporating common keywords, terms, and phrases into our search algorithm, students can be confident that they’ll find the degree programmes that interest them most, as long as they just enter in terms that relate to the field or what they’re interested in doing.

Of course, this search feature is one that we’re constantly tinkering with and developing. In fact, we have an entire team of engineers who are strictly focused on search functionality, and they make changes, adjustments, and modifications to it every single day. So, although this feature seems like a no-brainer, search optimisation is, in fact, extremely complex, requiring constant rigorous maintenance, observation, and testing. We’re on our way to perfecting it; but keeping it working properly is part of our overall development and innovation.

Boosting user confidence and conversion

While this development is quite new, we’re sure that users appreciate receiving more relevant search results. Now, when students enter in terms that are most relevant to them, and that match their unique interests, they can be confident that the results that arrive are connected to what they’ve entered. It’s no matter that, although many students want to go into web design, they may not know that they’re looking for a Bachelor’s or Master’s in Computer Science. So, if students know that the right results come up in response to their personal search enquiry, then they are more confident about the choices in front of them.

Moreover, when students can immediately see words that they’re looking for jumping out at them on a specific programme’s page, then they will also likely look into the programme more thoroughly. With the various keywords attached to each programme, students can know that they are in the right place, and that this programme is one worth looking into, applying for, and, even, enrolling in eventually.

Leading students directly to the right universities

By building such a sophisticated search algorithm, universities and organisations around the world can also be more confident that the right students are coming across their programmes. Now, instead of missing out on the curious and ambitious students who may be interested in a particular topic, these students can also reach your universities with more ease.

As we’ve mentioned in the previous articles in this series, it’s important to know your students and their journey from finding the programmes they are interested in, to finally applying and enrolling.

Students certainly are confronting and dealing with an information overload when it comes to negotiating their international education. We can’t expect them to know everything going in. Our role here is to provide them the right information in a clear way so that they can make the right choices for themselves. Yet, at the same time, we also have to envision and anticipate how they think and what they know. So, by optimising our search results in a more user-friendly manner, we can know that the students have found the information they need without being completely lost. Similarly, universities will attract a wider range of students; not just those who happen to know the particular details of a discipline, but also those who are eager and ready to learn.

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