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Changes to search on Parliament's websites

In this update we'll be talking about the work that happens to bring together Parliament’s digital content and the contextual information we make available in search results. This is what you see on the results page when you've searched for something, but before you've clicked on a result to view it.

Previously on search

We've talked previously about how we launched a new search service and how we’re working on improving search. Searching Parliament's website or beta website now takes you to one search page to view your results, which are determined by an external search provider.

This is now the default search service serving thousands of people searching directly on either website, every week.

Unifying search

Improving the search capability involves joining together many different websites and search interfaces from across Parliament’s web estate (we have lots of sites dedicated to different aspects of Parliament).

Our content is generated or produced by a wide variety of sources and people, and the information available to us to use in improving search is also varied. It means that you might get a different experience depending which website you search and with varied results.

Maintaining these different search experiences is challenging. In January, we switched off the infrastructure for the previous website search. At the time, we weren’t aware that the Art in Parliament section was running a custom search from the same infrastructure. So it broke.

Once we were alerted to the issue, we temporarily re-instated the infrastructure and then migrated the service to our new unified search. The way we’ve approached our unified search, using common search patterns like the site operator, made this a simple migration.

Users of the Art in Parliament search are now sent to the default search page when viewing their results. The results are still specific to the Art in Parliament section but are displayed within a service that we’ll continue to support and improve. We have also started to think about how we can improve the Art in Parliament results when they appear in a site-wide search.

What you see when you search

Screenshot showing the results page and what the hints look like
Screenshot showing the results page and what the hints look like

We've recently added more information for users when looking at a search result. We've been providing information on which results are documents for several months now. We provide this in the form of what we call a 'hint', and we've just released 60 new hints (65 hints are live in total). And Art in Parliament is one of the hints we’ve added.

We call them hints because the way we understand how to describe the search result comes from the URL of the page. We do this by matching patterns in the URL. In some instances, the URL might not be that informative about the content of the page, so we’re doing some guesswork and may occasionally be wrong.

These 65 hints are about 6% of the possible hints available to use, but we needed an initial approach to choosing some. Releasing them all at once might be more confusing than helpful. As an initial step, we selected a set by looking at what people were clicking on, and selecting the hints that matched those with the most clicks. In our sample, we covered 98% of results people chose. We made sure not to add multiple hints to results, with the exception of document types.

Further development

That doesn’t mean our work on hints is finished. We focused on a method that identified a set of hints as we were confident we wouldn't need to do more work to get rid of duplicate, overlapping descriptions. It’s a relatively simple and quick approach, which we can easily repeat to check if the hints are displaying next to the results that are returned.

We’re planning on releasing more hints soon. This will involve providing hints for results that don't currently have them, and increasing or changing the hints and descriptions to provide more context about the result before users decide to click on it.

Hints are one of many improvements and developments to the search service we’re working on. We’ll also be looking at how to make the title and summary text that appears next to search results clearer, and providing content from the data platform which is more informative and linked together. This should mean that users won’t have to search as long or as far to get the information they were after.

Read more posts from the data and search team

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