Do you have your search application up and running but it still doesn’t quite seem to do the trick? Here are six simple steps to boost the search experience.
Avoid the Garbage in-Garbage out Syndrome
Fact 1: A search application is only as good as the content it makes findable
If you have a news search service that only provides yesterday’s news, the search bit does not add any value to your offering.
If your Intranet search service provides access to a catalog of employee competencies, but this catalog does not cover all co-workers or contain updated contact details, then search is not the means it should be to help users get in touch with the right people.
If your search service gives access to a lot of different versions of the same document and there is no metadata available as to single out which copy is the official one, then users might end up spending unnecessary time reviewing irrelevant search results. And still you cannot rule out the risk that they end up using old or even flawed versions of documents.
The key learning here is that there is no plug and play when it comes to accurate and well thought out information access. Sure, you can make everything findable by default. But you will annoy your users while doing so unless you take a moment and review your data.
Focus on Frequent Queries
Fact 2: Users tend to search for the same things over and over again.
It is not unusual that 20 % of the full query volume is made up of less than 1 % of all query strings. In other words, people tend to use search for a rather fixed set of simple information access tasks over and over again. Typical tasks include finding the front page of a site or application on the Intranet, finding the lunch menu at the company canteen or finding the telephone number to the company helpdesk.
In other words, you will be much advised to make sure your search application works for these highly frequent (often naïve) information access tasks. An efficient way of doing so is to keep an analytic eye on the log file of your search application and take appropriate action on frequent queries that do not return any results whatsoever or return weird or unexpected results.
The key learning here is that you should focus on providing relevant results for frequent queries. This is the least expensive way to get boosted benefit from your search application.
Make the Information People Often Need Searchable
Fact 3: Users do not know what information is available through search.
Users often believe that a search application gives them access to information that really isn’t available through search. Say your users are frequently searching for ”lunch menu”, ”canteen” and ”today’s lunch”, what do you do if you do not have the menu available at all on your Intranet or Web site?
In the best of worlds, you will make frequently requested information available through search. In other words, you would add the lunch menu to your site and make it searchable. If that is not an option, you might consider informing your users that the lunch menu—or some other popular information people tend to request—is not available in the search application and provide them with a hard-coded link to the canteen contractor or some other related service as a so called “best bet” (or sponsored link as in Google web search).
The key learning here is to monitor what users frequently search for and make sure the search application can tackle user expectations properly.
Adapt to the User’s Language
Fact 4: Users do not know your company jargon.
People describe things using different words. Users are regularly searching for terms which are synonymous to—but not the same as—the terms used in the content being searched. Say your users are frequently looking for a ”travel expense form” on your Intranet search service, but the term used in your official company jargon is ”travel expenses template”. In cases like this you can build a glossary of synonyms mapping those common language terms people tend to search for frequently to official company terms in order to satisfy your users’ frequent information needs better without having to deviate from company terminology. Another way of handling the problem is to provide hand-crafted best bets (or sponsored links as in Google web search) that are triggered by certain common search terms.
Furthermore, research suggests that Intranet searches often contain company-specific abbreviations. A study of the query log of a search installation at one of Findwise’s customers showed that abbreviations—query strings consisting of two, three or four letters—stood for as much as 18 % of all queries. In other words, it might be worthwhile for the search application to add the spelled-out form to a query for a frequently used abbreviation. Users searching for “cp” on the Intranet would for example in effect see the results of the query “cp OR collaboration portal”
The lesson to learn here is that you should use your query log to learn the terminology the users are using and adapt the search application accordingly, not the other way around!
Help Users With Spelling
Fact 5: Users do not know how to spell.
Users make spelling mistakes—lots of them. Research suggests that 10—25 % of all queries sent to a search engine contain spelling mistakes. So turn on spellchecking in your search platform if you haven’t already! And while you are at it, make sure your search platform can handle queries containing inflected forms (e.g. “menu”, “menus”, “menu’s”, “menus’”). There’s your quick wins to boost the search experience.
Keep Your Search Solution Up-To-Date
Fact 6: Your search application requires maintenance.
Information sources change, so should your search application. There is a fairly widespread misconception that a search application will maintain itself once you’ve got it up and running. The truth is you need to monitor and maintain your search solution as any other business-critical IT application.
A real-life example is a fairly large enterprise that decided to perform a total makeover of its internal communication process, shifting focus from the old Intranet, which was built on a web content management system, in favor of a more “Enterprise 2.0 approach” using a collaboration platform for active projects and daily communication and a document management system for closed projects and archived information.
The shift had many advantages, but it was a disaster for the Enterprise Search application that was only monitoring the old Intranet being phased out. Employees looking for information using the search tool would in other words only find outdated information.
The lesson to learn here is that the fairly large investment in efficient Findability requires maintenance in order for the search application to meet the requirements posed on it now and in the future.
100 Most Often Mispelled Misspelled Words in English – http://www.yourdictionary.com/library/misspelled.html
Definition of “sponsored link” – http://encyclopedia2.thefreedictionary.com/Sponsored+link