Solr is an open source enterprise search platform, written in Java, from the Apache Lucene project. Its major features include full-text search, hit highlighting, faceted search, real-time indexing, dynamic clustering, database integration, NoSQL features and rich document (e.g., Word, PDF) handling. Providing distributed search and index replication, Solr is designed for scalability and fault tolerance.
Databases and Solr have complementary strengths and weaknesses. SQL supports very simple wildcard-based text search with some simple normalization like matching upper case to lower case. The problem is that these are full table scans. In Solr all searchable words are stored in an “inverse index”, which searches orders of magnitude faster.
Solr exposes industry standard HTTP REST-like APIs with both XML and JSON support, and will integrate with any system or programming language supporting these standards. For ease of use there are also client libraries available for Java, C#, PHP, Python, Ruby and most other popular programming languages.
While LiveWhale does have a native handling of both events and locations, it does not create an out-of-the-box function to display “events in this location.” With a little outside programming and use of either the REST interface or a couple of widgets we can create exactly that. I don’t think it will be necessary to create such a page for all of the 1,000+ locations on campus, but I am sure there there are several – especially those buildings which are used by many organizations – for which this could be quite beneficial. This might even be something which gets fed through FourWinds onto display screens in those locations. We are looking into an implementation, hopefully we will have something to share soon.
I think it is no secret that athletics drives eyeballs, and that includes to university websites. Without getting into the merits, a look back over analytics for the past five years shows that all of our largest traffic spikes come on days of a big game. This week was no exception.
Our site traffic on Saturday (the vast majority of which came during the game) was over twice the traffic we normally see for a daily high during the week. Not so surprising perhaps, but we all know that page hits are vanity metrics – what else more interesting can we see?
Looking at the most popular pages (other than the front page) we find a completely different set of pages being viewed. Frequently Asked Questions and About Texas A&M each received twice the traffic of any other page. After those two, At a Glance, Athletics, Traditions, Admissions, and History of the University round out the rest of the most popular pages. Again, not terribly surprising. The widespread television exposure probably meant that there were lots of people coming to find out more about us. But it represents a definite change from a more normal day in the type of content being read.
The geographic location of visitors bears this out. While Texas is normally by far the most common location, it barely beat out Tennessee. While the southeast was solidly represented, other areas such as the west coast, midwest, and upper east coast were also well represented.
The one metric that really stands out is the device that visitors were using. Only 20% of visits were from a desktop. We normally see more like 65% coming from the desktop, so this represents a major shift. Perhaps they don’t want to leave the TV to go into the other room, so instead pull it up on their phone or tablet?
What can we take away from this? One thing may be that events – whether football or something completely different – have dramatic effects on who comes to our sites and what they are looking for. How many of us actually change our websites to cater to this different demand? We go to great pains to optimize our sites and hit our normal target audience’s needs, but then never touch the content again. If our goal is to present visitors with the information they want, perhaps we need to recognize this trend. Almost 80% of our traffic was from new users. How much more effectively could we have reached this new audience if we had optimized the content for them that day?
So we have been using WPEngine for several months now and been able to go through a major site launch. Sometimes making a move like this can take a while to fully evaluate, so I thought I would just give another update after having used the service for a while.
Honestly, we’ve been very happy with the experience.
WPEngine’s staging feature has been an invaluable tool in getting sites prepped and tested before being easily pushed into production. Another massively helpful use of this is in testing plugin and theme updates before applying them. Simply copy your site to the staging area, apply the updates, and then verify the results. This gives you a nearly sure-fire way of knowing if an update will break your site or not.
Also, we have found their tech support to be great. It is easy to get a hold of someone knowledgeable, and their employees are very empowered to do a lot without having to go through an escalation process. The few times we have had an issue, they were able to quickly find and fix them with one phone call. When we launched Lead By Example, we called to let them know we had an important site coming online. They went out of their way to check out everything for us from their end to make sure it all went smoothly.
They also have a pretty good status page at wpenginestatus.com. You can subscribe to the service and get email alerts for any issues that might affect you. Thankfully it is usually pretty quiet, but it is nice to have the additional notifications.
That’s about it for now. As always, let us know if you have any questions. We’d be happy to talk further with anyone about WPEngine or anything else on your mind.
Modo Labs, the vendor for our university mobile app, has created a new blog series talking about how their client schools are using the product. Texas A&M was selected to be the first university profile in this series. They interviewed our local Marcomm team and asked about how we are using the app, what the most popular links are, how we partner with campus, and much more.
I have been learning more and more about how the map entries work as I get deeper into this project. One thing that winds up being much more important than I had first thought was the Primary Category.
When you edit an event you are given the choice of a Primary Category and as many additional categories as you wish. Whatever you add to the Primary Category will be shown on the public location entry. I had always thought this was largely cosmetic – I had never clicked on that link myself any time I had looked up a location. But, if you do click the link that will act as a filter and the search column will show you all of the other nearby entries with that categorization.
This, then, makes choice of category important. We do want it to be relevant to what our location is, but at the same time we want some consistency that will allow our locations to be cross listed in this sort of search. So the College of Medicine, for example, might be better served by using “College” as its primary category and “Medical School” as a secondary category rather than the other way around.
Categories are not completely open ended – Google has a select list of allowed categories (which unfortunately are not – to my knowledge anyway – published anywhere.) This means that we will have to create our own consistency with a common set us category entries.
One of the most important parts of optimizing your Google Place entry is adding and curating photos. The selection of good photos makes for better engagement with people searching for and viewing your entry, and Google seems to like and favor those entries that include photos.
There are two types of photo entry that you will need to manage – those which you add yourself and those which have been submitted by the public.
Adding your own photos is relatively simple – just navigate into your location’s dashboard page and click the “photos” link. From there add your profile and logo image at the top, and then as many other photos as you wish. The page breaks them down into interior, exterior, team, services, and additional photos. One positive thing that I have noticed already is that when you add photos to one location they can automatically be pulled in and displayed on related locations as well.
Equally important is curating the images that are submitted from the public or pulled in through Google’s web crawls. I have found that many problems with photos on the university entry – from poor quality, to advertising from nearby businesses, to images of a completely different location. There is no magic bullet to update these. I have simply had to get into the location entry and (repeatedly!) use the Report a Problem link to recommend that the photo be removed. This generally takes several attempts, but the system does eventually respond and remove the photos.
Good news on the Google Maps front. Yesterday afternoon our central account was finally accepted as “verified for bulk uploads.” This status means that we can claim ownership of the many location entries that have been created across campus and bypass the normal process of postcards and phone calls. This allows us to get on with the project in earnest.
While this allows us to more easily move forward, we do want to do so deliberately and with a plan. This project is not something that Marcomm can do on our own. I expect that this will be an enormously collaborative project where we work with members of your teams to identify and update content, fix inaccuracies, and promote the locations.
While we are still in the planning phases, one thing that I encourage you do do is create a list of the locations which you know are associated with your college, department, or division. Start looking at information that needs to be updated. As we meet with each of you I can add members from your team as co-owners or content managers so that you can make these updates.
I will hopefully be in touch soon.
We have just started a new project that likely will be keeping us busy for the next two years – organizing, correcting, and promoting campus locations on Google Maps. Those of you who have tried to look up various buildings or offices will understand why this is needed and why it will turn into such an enormous job.
We have over one thousand physical locations on campus, many of which have one or more organizational entities housed within them. While not every one of these has – or should have – their own Google Places entry, the number which do is pretty staggering.
We are therefore starting small. We have engaged Up&Up as a vendor to help us get started on a few iconic campus locations and to provide some training for best practices and for tackling some of the unique challenges our campus offers. Once we get past those locations we will likely form some sort of cross-campus team, either like what we did on the LiveWhale calendar or a special interest group through GoWeb,
I have already started reaching out ad hoc to a few of you to help round up locations and get validations. Many thanks for the cooperation that you all have extended. I think that does great credit to the trust and spirit of camaraderie we have developed in the campus web community over the past several years. I recognize we won’t e able to make this project a success without that kind of continued collaboration. And if I haven’t called you yet, be sure that sometime in the next several months I probably will…
For those of you who may not be on the GoWeb email list, we are having a presentation tomorrow (Friday, September 8) by Up&Up, one of our master contract vendors. They will be discussing why and how to update your department’s information in Google Maps to get better results in searches. Learn best practices for improving your listing and hear what Up&Up will be doing with Marketing & Communications.