Has Google replaced your website?

If you perform a search for your organisation’s name in Google, you may be directed to a new results page containing links to the main sections on your website accompanied by a site search box within Google.

IFPRI entry on google results

Google will drive your potential user directly to their page of interest without passing through your website home page.  This of course improves as your complete site is indexed in Google, a process which can be controlled by the creation of a Google site map.

And now onto the So what? part.

At IFPRI, we have found that over 30% of visitors to our website are coming from Google (compared to only 7% of visitors entering the site through our front page). Once we accept that our homepage is no longer the main conduit directing traffic to our site, we need to rethink how we work with the web. For example, many users now bypass our front page altogether choosing instead one of the landing pages under the section headings or going directly to documents of interest from the Google search results.

The organisational website struggles even more when it comes to featuring all the activity the staff have in social media (web 2.0) such as presentations loaded onto Slideshare, videos on Youtube and tweets on Twitter and blogs. This is not bringing into account the presence the scholarly world has created using Google Books and Google Scholar. In contrast, the Google results page features them all.

These findings have convinced us to change our outlook toward conceptualizing the role of our website in connection with Google and other search engines that are now playing a bigger role than ever in directing users to the content they are looking for. In particular, we highlight the following 6 changes to our approach:

1)      Every page should now be considered a “landing page.” By indexing your whole site, visitors come directly to the page or file they are looking for without ever coming through your organizational home page so linking to other relevant content from each and every page becomes more important than ever.

2)      No site search is as good as Google in many users’ eyes, so whatever you try with your site search, you need to pay particular attention to how Google search results for your site are being displayed.

3)      You need to use other web publishing platforms in order to heighten your profile in Google and other search engines. Google promotes YouTube results over others so having an online presence in Youtube has become more important than ever. And, if you consider each video as its own landing page, you should always remember to link back to your organizational website from YouTube and other web 2.0 services (e.g., blogs, Slideshare, Twitter, etc.).

4)      Google AdWords allow you to control where your organisation will appear in the new subject portals (Google search pages on specific topics now act as a mega-portal).

5)      Google’s Custom Search Engine (CSE) product brings the benefits of Google to your own site search. If you can’t afford the time to manually index your entries on YouTube, Slideshare and other social media platforms, you can get Google to do it for you by including these channels in a customized search box appearing on your website. See our first attempts here.

6)      Boost the visibility and accessibility of your scholarly content by include your books and monographs in Google Books and let  Google Scholar crawl your articles and publications site.   

In conclusion, the website is still essential but we encourage you to rethink the role of your institutional website. Namely, we now envision our website’s primary role as the institutional repository that requires putting related materials in context- i.e., linking YouTube videos and Slideshare presentations to relevant publications and research theme pages on our website. Perhaps our various online platforms are fast becoming a series of interconnected mini websites that present our work in various formats to the different audiences of potential users. And now more than ever, it seems essential to “be present at the right place and at the right time” when a it seems that Google will be a main entranceway for directing them to our diverse online content.

And now more than ever, it seems essential to “be present at the right place and at the right time” when a potential user seems to search the web, Google will be directing them to our diverse online content.

Chris Addison

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