Case Study How Site Search 360 helps streamline medical education in the US

Doctor in a hospital

Overview

Being a medical student is hard. However, what most people don’t realize is that the medical education system - and students themselves - make it even harder by prioritizing memorization of tedium rather than mastering concepts. This is something that Alec Palmerton MD, graduate of Stanford Medical School created his site, yousmle.com, to address.

Dr. Palmerton has helped thousands of students excel in the United States Medical Licensing Examinations (USMLEs), a series of exams that are crucial steps on every med student’s journey towards a fulfilling medical career. Oh, and they just happen to be some of the hardest exams out there.

To help tomorrow’s medical professionals ace their exams, Dr. Palmerton created a WP-based learning platform with the intention of bridging the gaps left by US higher medical education:

"Yousmle was born out of a desire to change the way medical students are educated. Rather than focus on memorizing tedium, we focus on mastery of critical concepts, then teach students how to apply them."

Site Search 360 logo & Yousmle logo seprated by a blue vertical line

The challenges

As Yousmle’s library of content expanded, they needed a way to deliver the right content at the right time. But it became obvious that the default search wouldn’t cut it.

The WordPress search is known for its limitations such as its inability to restrict results to a specific category or tag. It also can’t perform a full-content search that includes page meta data, user comments, widgets, and custom fields or post types, e.g. landing pages.

It’s not very fast, either, and the more your site - and your WP database - grows, the slower it becomes. This explains the abundant selection of plugins aiming to improve the standard WP search.

Yousmle’s goal was also to unite resources from two separate WordPress engines to let the students search both publicly accessible blog articles and private online course materials from a single search bar.

We had used a lot of the freemium plugins on WordPress, and had briefly tried integrating some of the other 'premium' services like Algolia. None had the combination of features and easy integrability with WordPress that Site Search 360 offered.

The setup

This easy integration is part of Site Search 360 by design. WordPress users can choose to manually add our JavaScript code snippet or leave the coding behind by installing the Site Search 360 WP plugin instead. The plugin packs our powerful search engine into an easy-to-install yet highly customizable tool. Three possible modes make the integration adaptable to all site needs:

Site Search 360 Worpdress plugin modes screenshot

Before search results can be rendered, the content needs to be indexed. That’s where the standard WP search fails again, as it’s restricted by its database. Two separate WP installations means two separate databases and two different search instances.

This is where Site Search 360 solved the exact problem Yousmle was facing. Our search solution enabled Yousmle to merge the results from two different subdomains, www.yousmle.com and course.yousmle.com, into one search index. To do this, Yousmle opted for the Crawler indexing method and added the respective sitemaps to the Site Search 360 Control Panel settings.

Sitemap indexing setup screenshot

Sitemap indexing setup

Blacklisted and no-indexed URLs in the Crawler Settings Screenshot

Blacklisted and no-indexed URLs in the Crawler Settings

They also specified what URLs should be blacklisted (completely ignored) or no-indexed (skipped but followed) to hide the unwanted pages from their site search. The Ignore Robots Meta Tag setting allowed Yousmle to keep the gated pages hidden from Google and other global search engines while serving them to the students who enrolled in the course.

Indexing the Yousmle’s Course material hidden behind a custom login page was challenging at first, as they had to resort to cookie-based authentication and update the relevant cookie as it expired. This workaround was no longer needed after Site Search 360 added a custom login screen setup, making it easy to reach password-protected content.

The outcome

The plugin’s Custom mode equipped Yousmle with a fully responsive, mobile-optimized layover view, forgoing the necessity to build a dedicated search result page or rely on the built-in result layout of their WP theme (Course Cats):

Screenshot of Site Search 360 modal search for study plan
Screenshot of searching for cheat sheet in Site Search 360

Yousmle’s team also appreciated Site Search 360’s shortcodes that allowed them to put the search box anywhere as well as the live search capabilities. Students now could start typing their query and instantly get search suggestions.

All results are grouped by source (Blog and Online Course) and by topic (Stats, Learning Strategy, Neuro, Cardiovascular, etc.), which immediately tells the students what category each result belongs to. Content grouping speeds up the search result navigation and improves the search UX.

Ultimately, a search feature that allows students to look through all available resources and quickly find relevant content has become indispensable to helping students save time and master more information. With the help of Site Search 360, Yousmle empowers their students to do better on the Board exams, and more importantly, to share the excitement that inspired them to become doctors in the first place.

Smiling CEO of Yousmle

"I'd definitely recommend using SiteSearch. It occupies a great middle-ground between things like Algolia that require a lot of programming experience and the Wordpress plugins that can be frustrating and difficult to use.

Plus, the support is absolutely amazing, and goes above and beyond. They created a short-term solution to index our password-protected content, then made it a part of a later update, which they checked on our site to make sure it worked. Fantastic!"

Alex Palmerton,
CEO of Yousmle

TL;DR

Yousmle is an online learning platform for med students. It needed a robust search function that would unite their blog and course materials, which are spread out between two subdomains. Site Search 360's WP plugin offered an easy way to crawl both sites, including secure pages. Live search suggestions as well as splitting results by topic have helped students navigate and find information faster. Because when you're prepping for an important exam, every minute counts.

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