OSU Search is powered by a Google Search Appliance. One of issues we’ve had to overcome from day one is the relevance of search results. One of the main criteria for search result relevance is how many pages link back to a page to figure out how relevant a search result is. This is one of the areas where OSU Search can’t keep up with external search engines like Bing, Yahoo or Google because OSU Search crawls, and is only aware of, OSU related websites.
In other words, if a site is being linked to by many external websites or groups this information is not used by OSU Search to improve results.
The good news is that the Google Search Appliance has a feature called Self Scorer. With this functionality turned on, the search appliance can improve the search results relevance by observing which links the users click on after they do a search. We had this feature turned on, but since we don’t use the search appliance directly, we weren’t taking advantage of it. In the latest version of OSU Search, we ported this feature over. Now, whenever you do a search in search.oregonstate.edu, the search appliance will make a note of what search result you clicked on and if enough people click that search result, it will move it up the list. This should make a difference in the relevance of search results end users see.
Another advantage of having the Self Scorer enabled is that we can run advanced search reports. What this means is that we’ll now be able to get reports that tell us things such as:
- The ranking of the search results that people are clicking on, or
- How often people use the next/prev links to find what they’re looking for instead of finding it on the first page
This extra data will allow us learn how useful the information that OSU Search is for different types of search queries, so that we can improve them.