Internal search – I’m paying attention – are you?

Back in November 2011, we re-launched the Central Bedfordshire Council website search engine to Zoom. It is not expensive, it does not have a flash look to it (though it can do!), but it does one thing…the job. That is, if you know how to make your internal search engine work for you.

I was recommended a book specialising in internal search – Search Analytics for your Site: Conversations with your Customers by Louis Rosenfeld. This book walks you through the well of knowledge you have at your fingertips from the searches your customers are performing.

It explains how to analyse the results and make the most from them. You can then use this knowledge to amend your page structure / content in order that the most relevant pages are coming up in the search. Do you know what the most popular search is on YOUR website? Do you know how many customers are using your website search engine?

I set to find that out and make improvements based on this knowledge.

In 2012, 143 unique search terms represented 20% of the most popular searches. Council tax was top with 2.48% followed by jobs at 1.27% and libraries at 0.41%.

I did two things with this information:

  1. I tested our search to make sure the right page was coming up in position 1 – if it wasn’t I fixed the content to ensure the right page came up
  2. I changed our navigation so customers did not need to search for these key phrases

Change based on solid customer insight

Fast forward to 2014 stats. Council tax is still a popular term to search for but it is dropped to position 4 and there were 75% LESS customers searching for it. The top searched term ‘Planning’ had just 0.54% of total searches performed on the site.

256 unique search terms now represent 20% of the most popular searches. We don’t have a huge peak at the top of the chain with a large number of customers unable to find key information.

We also do not have the same reliance on search as we have constantly tweaked our navigation to improve the user experience.

A large number still choose to use search as a quick way to navigation around the site. However, I am ok with that. It was the previous reliance on search, which I was not happy with.

We get 65% of our traffic via Google searches so there is a lot less reliance on our internal search these days. However, I find it invaluable to check search terms every week to see what our customers are looking for and then plugging gaps in website content and / or amending the navigation.

I have also been lucky enough to get a few top tips along the way from the author of the book, Louis Rosenfeld via Twitter and email. Louis – as ever, I couldn’t have done it without your wise words!

If you’d like to know more about what I have done over the past few years on our search engine, then watch my Brighton SEO talk – An untapped resource for optimising your website.




Building perfect council websites 2014

These are my top takeaways from the Building perfect council websites 2014 session held in Birmingham on 10 July, 2014. I’m just going to give a snippet of my views as I am sure the presentations will be on the Socitm website soon!

Stakeholder engagement

The day kicked off with Phil Young – Head of Online at Transport for London. When developing the TFL website, they engaged with a wide range of key stakeholders from the beginning of the project and met with them every two weeks to explain the progress. There were numerous referenced on screen e.g. RNIB. So important to get them on board early to get a strong steer on what their user needs are and also act as advocates for the programme.

Internal search

If a customer can’t find info on your search is it their fault for not knowing what to look for?

This was a question posed and the simple answer is NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

This is how James Coltham summed it up: Let’s be clear on this one… If your website users can’t find what they’re looking for, it’s YOUR fault, not theirs.

Your customers search in a wide variety of ways. Find out what they search for using your log files and please read this book – Search analytics for your site by Louis Rosenfeld to find out how to make use of the information and improve your internal site search performance. I have spent a lot of time working through the principles of this book and share this at the BrightonSEO conference last year. Have a look at my video for more information – An untapped resource for optimising your website – Alan Ferguson , Central Bedfordshire Council.

User experience testing

Lots of mentions of this all day long with a good session by Carolyne Mitchell. Carolyne will post on Twitter some links so give her a follow. What I’d say is that user experience testing doesn’t have to be expensive and you can easily learn how to do it. I went on a great day long usability testing training session with Webcredible which was worth every penny. Check it out and if you go on the session let me know what you think. We can share ideas!

Time share your skills

Get away from the desk and meet people and share experiences and how you can collaborate to improve your sites. Also, here is my idea which I have been beating the drum about – but too quietly!

I know about internal search, I know how to improve it – fast. I’ll show you how to do it and in turn you give me your skills in return. Have you nailed SEO for your site – I know a fair bit but don’t claim to be an expert when compared to the skills of a dedicated SEO expert.

Is there something on our website we could be doing better? I don’t care what you share with me, as long as it adds value to our site, and in return I will help you sort your internal search. Interested? Email me –

Go to BrightonSEO

OK a few points here. First off, don’t just go to public sector conferences. My favourite web conference is BrightonSEO. It takes place twice a year, and its free. But you have to subscribe to their mailing list to hear about tickets as they sell out in ten minutes.

Listen to the Site Visibility podcast

Its the best Internet Marketing podcast going. Because of that, it attracts top speakers. Listen from the first to the latest and I promise you you’ll get something from every episode.

Read these two books

These are nothing to do with the web….at all. They are amazing examples from around the world about thinking differently and problem solving from a legend of the advertising industry, Dave Trott. Here are the books:

Dave Trott – Creative Mischief

Dave Trott – Predatory Thinking

And if you get a chance, go and hear this guy talk. By far, the best speaker I have and likely ever will hear.

Get the developers out

I get to go to a few conferences a year, which is great. One I was at recently had Phil Rumens talking with GDS about open source and stuff which was way over my non-technical mind. But he was talking about sharing code and its stuff our web developers need to know about – not me. We need to let these guys lose to develop their skills not kill every ounce of creativity by chaining them to their desks. Kevin Jump pointed this out to me yesterday. He said in his experiences at Liverpool, one of the really enthused web developers was delivering 10 times more (OK might be a bit exaggerated).

Check your website – yes, you

We were looking at missed bin collections the other day and came across Kirklees website which has an option to collect ‘body parts’. Really? Yep. That and bloody bandages – and no, that’s not me swearing. We covered the points of failure and getting through them in the GOSS session. Again, I will leave it to them to add to the Socitm website.


Follow the folk I have mentioned on Twitter. Learn from them and share your experiences. I know that seems really obvious, but again don’t restrict to just public sector bods. Think what the private sector are doing as best practice and adapt to suit your website.

Like I said, I didn’t go into detail about the presentations. There’s probably more you will get from these so feel free to let me know what you thought of yesterday’s event.


Alan Ferguson@alanfergs
Web Manager for Central Bedfordshire Council