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How search works

The improved GOV.UK site search has been up for a few days now.

It makes things better for users of Inside Government by headlining the top 3 search results, then showing the rest under just 2 tabs. ‘Services and information’ shows all the mainstream content and the detailed guides. 

When you click on the ‘Departments and policy’ tab you get results from Inside Government - including all the corporate pages, organisation pages, people, document series, policies, publications and announcements.

You also get a department and agency filter, so that you can cut the results down to 1 organisation’s output.

This is the first time the organisation filter has been shown in the general site search and should offer a big improvement for users who need specific content.

We thought this would be a useful time to recap on how search works, as this too has improved since launch.

The search goes through the document, attaching a weighting in this order:

  1. title
  2. summary
  3. body (including sub-headings) + titles of all attached documents 

Multiple word searches will return results that contain all or at least some of the words, weighting results where the words are grouped together.

Page titles and publication titles

It’s worth emphasising that the titles of attached files are indexed by search. This means that publications and consultation pages can be given titles and summaries in plain English, without penalising users who search by the exact publication title to find the right page.

So there’s absolutely no excuse for page titles that replicate unfriendly document titles, like this one:

Publication
Evaluation of the Joint Financing Arrangement II (JFA II) Support of Pooled Fund Partners to the 2010–2012 ECA Business Plan

Please aim for plain English titles like this:

Publication
Evaluation of joint financing for UN Economic Commission for Africa

We’ll keep updating you as we make more improvements to search.

Duplicate titles in site search

There’s been a GDS team diligently working away improving search on GOV.UK. They’ve asked us to relay some important general advice to Whitehall publishers.

They’ve come across several apparent duplicate results while testing site search, which are confusing users.

There are two recurring issues in particular:

1. Actual duplicate publications or forms (identical or older versions), for example:imageThe way to deal with this is to delete the superfluous versions (cue: support form). If there are slight differences between versions of the same publication (eg. an easy-read version or a flyer format) add them together on one page and explain the nuances there. 

2. Items with identical titles but different content, for example:

image

The big request here is to avoid duplicate or vague titles by writing them in the context of the whole GOV.UK site rather than the individual department.

Better titles would expose the substantial content within documents - a quote, for example. Judicious use of metadata is also OK where it is going to help users differentiate search results. For example, another document related to the Woolwich incident published by the Home Office had the title ‘Home Secretary’s statement on Woolwich attack’, which is at least clearer and more distinct without having to read the description to tell the results apart. 

The recently released improvements to search across GOV.UK will help. The Inside Government team will also move forward on stories that will automatically inject helpful metadata. For example, we’ll include minister name into title of speeches and statements in listings and search results and are creating a sub-type of speech for statements that have multiple speakers.

Careful with the admin links

When linking from one Inside Government [Whitehall] document to another the pro-tip here is to go to the document list in admin > locate document > right-click ‘copy link address’ > paste this into the document you are creating.

Don’t copy-and-paste previewed URLs because we do not rewrite those links automatically.

For example:

BOO HISS

https://whitehall-admin.production.alphagov.co.uk/travel-insurance?cachebust=1362409293&preview=139044 

HURRAY 

https://whitehall-admin.production.alphagov.co.uk/government/admin/detailed-guides/189802

Note that the correct link contains ‘admin’ and a number, as opposed to a human-friendly and readable slug. Nor does it have all that nasty cache busting going on at the end.

We have seen a number of recent Zendesk tickets reporting this incorrectly as a technical bug.

*UPDATE*

if you are linking from one Whitehall page to another (regardless of status) it is advisable to use the admin url because this protects it against frontend changes.

Just to be clear, you can use admin URLs to link from document to document:

  • Policy
  • Publication
  • News
  • Consultation
  • Speech
  • Detailed guide
  • Priority
  • Location news
  • Case study
  • Statistical data set
  • Fatality

Whereas public URLs should be used when linking from documents to:

  • Document series
  • Organisation
  • Policy team
  • Policy group
  • Role
  • People
  • Topic
  • Topical event
  • Worldwide organisation
  • Worldwide location
  • Field of operation

Instructions on this distinction are also provided in the ‘Formatting help’ when creating a new document.

Please use the support form!

With 24 depts and 31 other orgs now live on the site, it won’t surprise you to hear that we get a lot of support requests, questions and suggestions.

It’s not sustainable to deal with these requests directly by phone and email, especially with the hundreds of ALBs soon to join the site.

From now on, if you call or email us directly about something that the support form is intended to deal with, we will ask you to resubmit it via the form.

Sorry if this feels cold and bureaucratic. That’s not the intention. It’s so we can help you better. As it stands, lots of important things are being missed because they are lost in busy people’s inboxes, and we need to be able to see the trends in the kinds of things people are asking about frequently. The appropriate team members get alerted when support requests come in, and we are trialling an SLA for response times for different types of request.

The form is here: https://www.gov.uk/support/internal (internal to government only)

You should use it for all of the following things:

  • telling us about new user needs
  • requesting new features
  • reporting bugs or issues
  • requesting analytics reports
  • requesting short URLs (guidance coming soon on this)
  • requesting redirects
  • general feedback

Basically, anything which you think requires an action on our part should be raised through that form.

Should you need to escalate or chase progress on a support ticket (*only* once the expected resolution time has elapsed), you can do that by emailing Jenni Moss. Jenni is the single point of contact at GDS for this purpose.

Please use multi-lingual publishing features for translated content

In February we added features that enable you to publish translated editions of documents (how to do this is explained in http://inside-inside-gov.tumblr.com/post/44215691162/worldwide and http://inside-inside-gov.tumblr.com/post/45412650932/ability-to-translate-into-welsh).

Our implementation of multi-lingual publishing provides effective visual cues to users, paths for search engines and workflows for publishers. But recently we’ve come across instances where publishers have overlooked these features when publishing translated content.

When translation features are not used, it introduces a number of problems that can only be undone by unpublishing the content and starting again from scratch:

  • using English language ‘templates’ for non-English content means users and the web might well regard the page as no better than gibberish
  • users who find the English or translated documents aren’t notified that alternative language versions are available
  • no locale is provided in the url to verify the language (e.g. .es for Spanish or .cy for Welsh) 
  • translated content is not indexed properly in search
  • it means unnecessary steps for publishers when creating the document(s)
  • it puts the responsibility on you (rather than the app) when making updates to remember that there are parallel documents that also need to be located and updated 

This mainly concerns FCO and Wales Office at the moment, but I raise it here because other orgs have expressed an interest in beginning to publish translated editions of documents.

Imminent stories on our backlog will expand on the translation features by allowing translation of additional format types (eg. detailed guidance) and the publication of documents without there having to be a canonical English edition.

Please don’t create news stories which only promote other content

We see a surprising amount of this sort of thing, which we guess is down to old habits (imposed by legacy CMS software) dying hard.

This news story https://www.gov.uk/government/news/dbs-news-publication-april merely states the fact that this publication https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/dbs-news-may-2013 has been published, and adds no value. The news story has then been featured on the organisation’s homepage at https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/disclosure-and-barring-service

Please don’t do this.  

All the information in the news story could have been included as detail on the publication itself, and the publication could have been featured. It’s senseless creating two URLs for a single piece of content like this. 

Flag your FOI contact today

The changes to FOI information on organisation pages we told you about last week have been live since early this week. But most departments are yet to update their contacts. Please go and do that today. 

It only takes a second. Just edit the relevant contact and change its type to “Freedom of Information contact” as shown here: 

Here’s the before and after to show what it will do on the frontend: 

Before

After

Shout if you have any problems. 

Bug with document series

There’s a bug right now which prevents you adding documents to a series, unless the series’s summary field has been populated.

We introduced the bug when we added the summary field to series and made it mandatory. Oops, our bad. We’ll ship a fix on Monday.

In the meantime, if you go in and edit the series and add a summary the error will go away.

May 2
This email alert just went out to a load of subscribers, because the edition was updated with a “change note” (as opposed to ticking the “minor change” box, which would have been more appropriate in this case).

Writers should think hard about whether an update they are making is a substantive change to the content, or not. And editors should carefully review change notes as part of the second pair of eyes review. It’s too important not to.

This email alert just went out to a load of subscribers, because the edition was updated with a “change note” (as opposed to ticking the “minor change” box, which would have been more appropriate in this case).

Writers should think hard about whether an update they are making is a substantive change to the content, or not. And editors should carefully review change notes as part of the second pair of eyes review. It’s too important not to.

A quick Pivotal tip

We’re in the habit of sharing links to tickets in our public Pivotal Tracker project to let people see how we’ve translated their request into a user story, and so they can track where it is in the backlog. 

Pivotal’s interface is not exactly intuitive, so here’s a quick tip on how to see where the story is in the queue. 

When you click the link to a ticket, you’ll get a full screen view like this: 

To see where the ticket is in relation to all the others, look in the top right corner and click the diagonal arrow circled here: 

This will minimise the ticket but keep it open so you can see where it is, like this (you might have to scroll to find it):

Stories in green are done. They show in the ‘Backlog’ and ‘Done’ lists.

Stories in yellow are being worked on currently. They show in the ‘Current’ list. 

Stories in grey are queued to be worked on next/soon. They show in the ‘Current’ list (this sprint) and ‘Backlog’ list (next few sprints). The team works through them in order. 

Stories in blue are pending. They show in the ‘Icebox’ list. I’ve grouped them into approximate priority groups (P1 = high, P3 = low), but they are not necessarily prioritised within those groupings. You’re welcome to raise a support request via https://www.gov.uk/support/internal if you want to dispute the priority of a story you care about, but please do take a look at all the other tickets above it so you have a sense of the relative priorities overall. 

A change to the ‘relevant to local gov’ checkbox

You no longer need to check a box on documents to specify whether they are relevant to local government (contrary to what we said in previous posts).

This relevance is now being inferred from the association to policies. All you need do is tag your news, speeches, publications and consultations to the relevant policy and the rest will follow automatically. 

The only place that checkbox now exists is on policies, and DCLG will be setting it for all policies so other departments should just not touch it. 

No format for that? Talk to us!

All too often, we’re seeing examples of publishers in departments hijacking content formats to publish material that it would be better to model explicitly as a thing in its own right. 

Here are a few of examples where it would have been great if the publishers had flagged to us that there wasn’t a suitable format or functionality, rather than shoe-horning it into a format designed to do something else. 

So please, please tell us about new or as-yet-unmet needs using the (government-only) support form. It may well be that we agree you should temporarily use an existing format if your need is urgent, but at the very least we need to know you’ve had to do that so we can plan to meet the need in a better way.

Please don’t write “statistical press release” in titles

Some publishers are titling their press releases about newly published statistics with the phrase “Statistical press release” or similar phrases. 

Here’s one from this morning: 

And here’s a load more

As we’ve said on this blog before, duplicating format labels in title fields is bad form and results in this kind of thing appearing in email alerts and feed readers:

"Press release: Statistical press notice: NHS 111…."

So please don’t do it. 

We suggest a better way of approaching this is to title it “Latest statistics about NHS 111…” 

We don’t think it’s justified to have a distinct sub-type of press release just for press releases about statistics on the announcements index. Let us know if you disagree strongly. 

It’s also questionable whether you need to issue a press release about the statistics at all, rather than merely featuring the actual stats publications themselves on your organisation’s homepage.