Google Search Results for Russell Group Universities Highlight Importance of Freebase
Posted by Brian Kelly on 24 September 2012
About This Post
This post summarises the findings of a survey of the Google search engine results for Russell Group universities. The post provides access to the findings which were obtained recently, with live links which enable the current findings to be viewed. The post explains how additional content, beyond the standard search results snippet, is obtained and discusses ways in which Web managers can manage such information.
The following sections are included in this post:
- The importance of Google search
- Findings of a survey of search results for Russell Group universities
- Thoughts on Freebase
The Importance of Google Search
An important part of my work in supporting those who manage institutional Web service is in evidence-gathering. The aim is to help identify approaches which can inform practice for enhancing the effectiveness of institutional Web service.
This post summarises the findings for Google searches for institutional Web sites. Google plays an important role in helping users find content on institutional Web sites. But Google nowadays not only acts as a search engine, it also provides navigational aids to key parts of an institutional Web site and hosts content about the institution.
An example of a typical search for a university is shown below; in this case a search for London School of Economics. As can be seen, the results contain navigational elements (known as ‘sitelinks‘); a search box (which enables the user to search the institutional Web site directly); a Google map; a summary from Wikipedia and additional factual content, provided by Google.
Findings of a Survey of Search Results for Russell Group Universities
Are the search results similar across all institutions? And if there are significant differences, should institutions be taking action to ensure that additional information is being provided or even removed?
In order to provide answers to such questions a search for the 24 Russell Group universities was carried out on 17 September 2012. The findings are given in the table shown below. Note that the table is in alphabetic order. Column 2 gives the name of the institution and the search term used; column 3 gives the sitelinks provided; column 4 states whether a search box was embedded in the results; column 5 states whether a Google Map for the institution was provided; column 6 lists the titles of the factual content provided; column 7 provides a link to the Wikipedia entry if this was provided and column 8 provides a link to the search findings, so that up-to-date findings can be viewed (which may differ from those collected when the survey was carried out).
|Institution / Search term||Main search results (on left of Google results page)||Additional results
(on right of Google results)
|Sitelinks||Search box?||Google Map?||Factual information categories
University of Birmingham
|No||Yes||At a glance; Transit; More reviews||–||[Search]|
University of Bristol
|No||Yes||Motto; Address; Enrollment; Phone; Mascot; Hours||[Link]||[Search]|
University of Cambridge
|Yes||Yes||Motto; Address; Color; Phone; Enrollment; Hours||[Link]||[Search]|
|Yes||Yes||Address; Phone; Enrollment; Colors||[Link]||[Search]|
University of Durham
|Yes||Yes||Address; Phone; Colors; Enrollment; Founded||[Link]||[Search]|
University of Edinburgh
|Yes||Yes||Address; Acceptance rate; Phone; Enrollment; Founded; Colors||[Link]||[Search]|
University of Exeter
|Yes||Yes||Address; Enrollment; Phone; Colors||[Link]||[Search]|
University of Glasgow
|Yes||Yes||Address; Phone; Acceptance rate; Enrollment; Founded; Colors||[Link]||[Search]|
|Yes||Yes||Motto; Address; Phone; Acceptance rate; Enrollment; Colors||[Link]||[Search]|
King’s College London
|Yes||Yes||Address; Phone; Mascot; Enrollment; Founded; Colors||[Link]||[Search]|
University of Leeds
|Yes||Yes||Address; Phone; Enrollment; Founded; Colors||[Link]||[Search]|
University of Liverpool
|Yes||Yes||Address; Phone; Enrollment; Acceptance rate; Founded||[Link]||[Search]|
London School of Economics
|Yes||Yes||Address; Phone; Enrollment; Mascot; Founded; Colors||[Link]||[Search]|
University of Manchester
|Yes||Yes||Enrollment; Founded; Colors||[Link]||[Search]|
|Yes||Yes||Address; Phone; Enrollment; Founded; Colors:||[Link]||[Search]|
University of Nottingham
|Yes||Yes||Address; Phone; Enrollment; Founded; Colors:||[Link]||[Search]|
University of Oxford
|Yes||No||Acceptance rate; Color; Enrollment||[Link]||[Search]|
Queen Mary, University of London
|–||No||Yes||Address; Phone; Enrollment; Colors||[Link]||[Search]|
|19||Queen’s University Belfast||Yes||Yes||Address; Phone; Enrollment; Founded||[Link]||[Search]|
University of Sheffield
Enrollment; Founded; Colors:
University of Southampton
|No||Yes||Address; Enrollment; Founded||[Link]||[Search]|
|22||University College London||Yes||No||Enrollment; Founder; Founded; Colors||[Link]||[Search]|
University of Warwick
|Yes||Yes||Address; Phone; Enrollment; Acceptance rate; Founded; Colors||[Link]||[Search]|
University of York
|No||Yes||Address; Enrollment; Hours; Phone; Founded; Colors||[Link]||[Search]|
Note: This information was collected on 17 September 2012 and checked on 18 September 2012. It should also be noted that since Google search results can be personalised based on a variety of factors (previous searches, client used to search , etc.) others carrying out the same search make get different results.
We can see that 21 Russell Group University Web sites have a Google Map; 19 have a search interface on Google. The following table summarises the areas of factual information provided. The table is listed in order of the numbers of entries for each category. Note that the American spellings for ‘enrollment‘ and ‘color‘ are used in the Google results.
In addition the search results also included information on Ratings and Google reviews (15 Russell Group university Web sites have a Google rating and 17 have a Google review). The numbers of Google reviews ranged from 1 to 208. Note that this information may well be susceptible to the ‘Trip Advisor Syndrome’ in which people have vested interests in giving either very high or very low scores.
The navigational elements are referred to as ‘sitelinks’ by Google. As described on the Google Webmaster Tools Web site:
sitelinks, are meant to help users navigate your site. Our systems analyze the link structure of your site to find shortcuts that will save users time and allow them to quickly find the information they’re looking for
The creation of sitelinks is an automated process. However, as described on the Google Webmaster Tools Web site, if a sitelink URL is felt to be inappropriate or incorrect, a Webmaster who has authenticated ownership of the Web site with the Google Webmaster tools can demote up to 100 of such links.
It should also be noted that during the final checking of the findings, carried out on 21 September 2012, it was found that the sitelinks for the University of Exeter had changed over a period of 5 days. The initial set of six sitelinks, which are listed above, were: Undergraduate study – Contact us; Postgraduate study – Visiting us; Working here – Studying. The more recent list is Undergraduate study – Working here; Postgraduate study – Contact us; International Summer School – Studying.
Although I suspect the findings for location maps won’t be a significant issue for universities (unlike, say, for small businesses) it was the the factual content provided by Google which seems to be of most interest. The display of such factual information is a recent development. On 16 May, 2012 a post on the GigaOM blog announced Google shakes up search with new Wikipedia-like feature which described how “the search giant is carving out a chunk of the site for “Knowledge Graph”, a tool that offers an encyclopedia-like package in response to a user’s query“. I highlighted the importance of the announcement in a post entitled Google Launches Knowledge Graph and, as Martin Hawksey commented, “As Freebase uses Wikipedia as its main data source having information in there is important but it’s in Freebase that structure is added to individual entities to make the knowledge graph“.
This factual information appeared to be the most interesting aspect of the survey. A summary of the Freebase service is given below, together with a discussion of the implications for management of content hosted in Freebase.
Thoughts on Freebase
It was back in 2007 when I first became aware of Freebase. As I described in a report on the WWW2007 conference Freebase is “an open Web 2.0 database, which has been exciting many Web developers recently“, with a more detailed summary being provided in Denny Vrandecic’s blog posting. However since then I have tended to focus my attention on the importance of Wikipedia and haven’t been following developments with Freebase apart from the announcement in 2010 of the sale of Freebase to Google.
Looking at the Freebase entry for the University of Oxford it seems there are close links between Freebase and Wikipedia. As shown in the screen image, the textual description for the University of Oxford is taken from the Wikipedia entry. Just like Wikipedia it is possible to edit the content (see the orange Edit This Topic button in the accompanying screen shot) which allows anyone with a Freebase account to update the information.
As with Wikipedia, Freebase provides a history of edits to entries. Looking at the edits to the University of Oxford entry we can see many edits have been made. However most of these related to the assignment of the entry to particular categories e.g. Education (Education Commons). It was initially unclear to me how easy it would be to detect incorrect updates to the entry, whether made by mistake or maliciously.
In order to understand the processes for updating entries to Freebase with the permission of Rob Mitchell, the University of Exeter Web Manager, I updated the Enrollment figure for his institution which was 15,720 in 2006 to 18,542 in 2011. The updating process was simple to use and the new data was immediately made available for the University of Exeter Freebase entry. Rob will be monitoring the Google search results in order to see how long it takes before the update is available. We might reasonably expect (indeed hope) that there will be manual process for verifying the accuracy of updates made to Freebase articles.
It does seem to me that those involved in University marketing activities or those with responsibilities for managing a university’s online presence may wish to be taking responsibility for managing information provided on Freebase. Is the management of factual information about institutions hosted on Freebase something which institutions are currently doing? If so, does is this limited to annual updates of enrollment figures, etc. or is new information being provided?
Twitter conversation from: [Topsy]