Why improving site search has been a priority for our new website

Blog post by Oli Kass, digital manager.

Next week will see us go live with a public beta site for ros.gov.uk. It’s significant step towards delivering our ultimate goal of making ros.gov.uk the place for everyone to find out what they need to know about Scottish land and property registration.

We’ve written already about how content design and user research and testing have been a huge focus during the redesign. I wanted to explain why improving site search has also been a priority for beta and how the work of the content team had a significant impact on improving the search experience from the get go.

“I’ll just search for it”

During testing we observed a significant split between users who relied on traditional navigation labels to complete a task and users who jumped straight into site search armed with their keywords and phrases.

With this in mind, we wanted to make sure site search had plenty of weight in the new designs.



Users are presented with a hero search on the homepage and we’ve given search more prominence site-wide.

Screenshot of site-wide search

Better content, better search

Before we looked at search enhancements, we first tested how a basic search installation performed against our newly simplified content and architecture. We found that even the most basic of search setups delivered a drastically streamlined search experience.

What do I mean by streamlined? I mean faster load times, less duplicate results, less references to obscure archive pages, and result listings that more closely mirrored some of the top tasks identified during research and testing.

Screenshot of search for house prices on current site

The previous site search function.

Screenshot of search for house prices on beta site

Our first enhancement.

Screenshot of autocomplete when searching for house price on beta site

We added some auto-complete to give users another option for faster routes into the new look content.

Keyword analysis

Next we looked at our analytics to see how search was being used on ros.gov.uk in the hope of identifying areas for further improvement.

Even with a relatively low number of searches (around 5% of sessions) on the current site we still had data for 28,000 different search terms over 12 months – evidence enough to suggest a broad range of queries and user needs.

A deeper dive revealed that our users employed markedly different vocabularies. We needed to account for searches like “how old is my house”, “changing names on title deeds” as much as we needed to account for “prescriptive servitudes” and “dispositions a non domino”.

Increasing the search scope

Users searching for legal terminology on ros.gov.uk at the moment could potentially hit a dead end or disappear down a rabbit hole of PDFs and FAQs.

Screenshot of current site search for prespective servitudes

Moving our registration guidance away from PDFs to the dedicated Knowledge Base microsite last year delivered a number of benefits to users but users have told us the site is a little tricky to access from ros.gov.uk.

From next week, users will be able to access and filter Knowledge Base content via the beta site search. This will speed up task completion for popular search terms and help to bridge the gap between the two sites. We’ll be doing some further testing with users to measure the impact.

Screenshot of search for prespective servitudes

Highlighting the blog

There’s been a big drive at Registers of Scotland in the last couple of years to use blogging to communicate what’s going on behind the scenes. We cover a broad range of subjects and are often relaying important information through the platform.

Until now we’ve relied on our social media channels and mail campaigns to tell people about new items on the blog. You’ll now find our WordPress blog indexed on the beta site as well. So if you’re looking for information on the land register application form you can also read up on the upcoming changes while you’re there.


We’ll use data and feedback to improve

We know our results for every search won’t be perfect and that in some cases we won’t have content in place yet. However with a few months’ worth of traffic data and further feedback we’ll be able to continue to improve the search experience and identify some of the gaps in content.

When the site goes live next week please take a look around, have a play with search and let us know what you think.

Stay in the loop

You can follow the team via @RegistersOfScot on Twitter and on FacebookLinkedIn and YouTube for more updates. Want to comment? Let us know below.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.