search resultsThe Web Team has gotten a couple questions about why something is or is not appearing in search results. The way it works is a little tricky, and what you see in the results can be confusing. Hopefully with a little explanation, you will know what to expect with our search.

So, how does it work?

We use Google to run our search. That means that Google indexes our site, and when someone uses the search bar on our site, we send the term to Google and Google sends us the results to display. Then, we display them on our site for visitors. This is good because we get to take advantage of Google’s algorithms that include features like spell check and synonyms to display the most relevant results to users.

Great, but what does that mean for my search results?

Results are not live

When you search on our site, the results are from the last time that Google indexed the site. That means, if you update a page or add a new document, it won’t be found by the search right away. Similarly, if you remove a page or document from the site, and someone searches for the right thing, the deleted content may show up in the search results. However, the link to the removed page or document will no longer work – the visitor will receive a 404 page if they click on the result.

Google re-indexs our site about once a month, so at the latest one month after you make your changes they should be reflected in the search results.

We don’t directly control the results

We can’t directly change the results. For example, if there is a key word that you would like your page to show up for in search, we can’t manually add it to the results.

However, the same principles of search engine optimization that apply to Google search apply to our search. Make sure you use the keywords in your page and page titles. See the Search Engine Optimization blog post for tips about designing pages that perform well in search.

Google doesn’t have access to our database

Because Google indexes our site using a bot that clicks on links, it may not find pages or documents that aren’t linked from another page on our site. However, this is not a very secure way of protecting content. We have seen instances where pages or documents that we didn’t think were linked to from other pages on our site were found by our search. So, if content really needs to be protected, use UW Groups to require visitors to log in to find the content.

Speaking of UW Groups, how do they affect search results?

Google can’t reach pages that require a login, so you won’t find pages protected by a login in our search results.

The situation is a little complicated for documents. The only way to securely protect documents is to have them on a site that is protected by a UW Group. A document that is linked to on a page that is protected by a UW Group on an unprotected site is not secure and may still be found via search.