Tuning Up Site Search - IA Summit 2007


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Site search for portals, intranets, e-commerce, and e-service sites often fails to deliver the results that users expect. If your search system isn’t delivering on these high expectations, an important question to ask is what (if anything) has been done to configure and optimize your site search tool. Given the fact that many organizations have already made a big investment in purchasing a search engine, it makes sense to explore ways to tune up your search engine before sending it to the digital scrap heap.
If you are new to the area of site search and facing the challenge of how to rescue your site’s users from a frustrating search experience, this presentation will provide you with effective strategies, starting points and examples. It will also include opportunities for incorporating user testing and search analytics into the process of improving search. The strategies covered will range from the low-hanging fruit (taking better advantage of existing features) to the more robust solutions, which are possible when you have the option of customizing your search engine.

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  • Tuning Up Site Search - IA Summit 2007

    1. 1. Tuning Up Site Search Best Practices for Making Site Search Usable Information Architecture Summit 2007 - March 25, 2007
    2. 2. Introductions <ul><li>Chris Farnum - Senior Information Architect </li></ul><ul><li>Enlighten | Ann Arbor, Michigan </li></ul>
    3. 3. Introductions <ul><li>Topic: Site Search [not SEO, SEM] </li></ul><ul><li>My Target Audience: Those NEW to search IA </li></ul><ul><li>NOT site search veterans </li></ul>
    4. 4. Today’s Presentation <ul><li>Intro </li></ul><ul><li>The Value of Search </li></ul><ul><li>Understanding Users </li></ul><ul><li>Strategies for Improving Search </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Four Strategies </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Closing/Questions </li></ul>
    5. 5. Intro | The Promise of Search <ul><li>Search is supposed to just work – automagically . </li></ul>
    6. 6. Intro | The Predicament <ul><li>Does this sound familiar? </li></ul><ul><li>Just turning it on with default settings doesn’t work out so well… </li></ul><ul><li>It’s either all or nothing - zero results or thousands </li></ul><ul><li>The first 10 results for your search are often all marked with the same relevance score – it’s hard to tell what content is best. </li></ul><ul><li>Your search often displays redundant results; the results list contains lots of links to identical content. </li></ul>
    7. 7. Intro | The Predicament <ul><li>… continued </li></ul><ul><li>Your results page doesn’t show anything more than a document title or a cryptic filename for each item, not much for users to go on when deciding which results to investigate. </li></ul><ul><li>Your site statistics show that many users try a few searches then exit the site without any other action. </li></ul><ul><li>Users who found something useful by browsing on a previous visit can’t find it again when they return and use search. They are especially frustrated because they know the page exists. </li></ul>
    8. 8. Intro | The Predicament <ul><li>Search failure isn’t pretty… </li></ul>From bad to worse – a misspelling of “Althlon” takes the user way off track
    9. 9. Intro | The Value of Search <ul><li>Corporate Brand Sites – the impact of negative search experiences </li></ul><ul><li>Undermines brand trust and satisfaction </li></ul><ul><li>Lost opportunity to achieve your site’s objectives </li></ul><ul><li>Estimate - Up to 20% of the gains in user experience during a site redesign can be attributed to search improvements - Laura Ramos of Forrester </li></ul><ul><li>ForeSee Results includes user ratings of site search as a key factor when measuring overall online customer satisfaction </li></ul>
    10. 10. Intro | The Value of Search <ul><li>Ecommerce Site Search </li></ul><ul><li>Poor search = lost revenue </li></ul><ul><li>Users who conduct site searches are almost three times more likely to purchase something while visiting a site – (WebSideStory study) </li></ul><ul><li>Users who had SUCCESSFUL site searches are twice as likely to convert (Enlighten study) </li></ul><ul><li>Half of all add-to-cart actions happened after a search. (Enlighten study) </li></ul><ul><li>Users who had NULL-RESULTS site searches were three times as likely to leave (Enlighten study) </li></ul>
    11. 11. Intro | The Value of Search <ul><li>Enterprise Intranet Search </li></ul><ul><li>Cost of poor search adds up quickly - affects productivity </li></ul><ul><li>According to a study by usability guru Jakob Nielsen: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“ Poor search was the greatest single cause of reduced usability across intranets we have seen, aside from the general lack of executive support and budget. Search usability accounted for an estimated 43% of the difference in employee productivity between intranets with high and low usability.” </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Lost opportunities to share and build upon organizational knowledge </li></ul><ul><li>Duplication of effort when one employee doesn’t find out about knowledge that is already documented </li></ul>
    12. 12. Understanding Users | Search Analytics <ul><li>Diamonds in the data </li></ul><ul><li>A great place to start improving search is with past search behavior. </li></ul><ul><li>Site logs and path tracking </li></ul><ul><ul><li>When do users initiate search? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Do they exit the site from the results page? </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Search engine’s own logs or reports </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Most common searches vs. the long tail </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Null results – e.g. “swim suits” on a site that only uses the term “swimwear” </li></ul></ul><ul><li>See Messrs. Rosenfeld and Wiggins for more on search analytic techniques… </li></ul>
    13. 13. Understanding Users | Live Research & Testing <ul><li>User Testing Provides Context </li></ul><ul><li>Powerful especially when combined with search analytics </li></ul><ul><li>Contextual / exploratory user research to evaluate features </li></ul><ul><li>Task based testing with live system or prototype – mix known-item with topic/research questions </li></ul><ul><li>Ask users to “think aloud” when filling out the search form, evaluating results </li></ul><ul><li>Measuring success: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Did they find the right answer? How many tries? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>How do they modify searches on subsequent attempts? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Satisfaction with results – trust </li></ul></ul>
    14. 14. Strategies for Improving Search | Key Questions <ul><li>Gut check - Does your current search solution meet your site’s interactive objectives? </li></ul><ul><li>Is it fast enough? </li></ul><ul><li>Are the results accurate enough? </li></ul><ul><li>Is the way results are displayed on the page complete enough? </li></ul><ul><li>Does it integrate well with the rest of your systems? </li></ul><ul><li>Does it fit your business goals and deliver on your brand’s promise? </li></ul><ul><li>Are users finding what they need? </li></ul>
    15. 15. Strategies for Improving Search | Key Questions <ul><li>Don’t Panic! </li></ul><ul><li>You don’t necessarily need a new search system </li></ul><ul><li>Find out what you can do with what you’ve got, i.e. try a tune-up </li></ul><ul><li>Some are easy to turn on and configure, others take effort and need regular updates </li></ul><ul><li>Powerful options – often overlooked </li></ul><ul><li>Find out what your search system can do… </li></ul>
    16. 16. Strategy #1 | (Re)Configure your site search engine <ul><li>Does your search engine platform offer… </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Search suggestions </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Ways to adjust relevance scores and sort order </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Best bets </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Stemming / alternate word endings </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Synonyms </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Narrowing </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Highlighted search terms </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Stop word lists </li></ul></ul>
    17. 17. Strategy #1 | (Re)Configure your site search engine <ul><li>Example: Search Suggestions – Did You Mean… </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Spelling suggestions – Can you modify the dictionary? </li></ul></ul>A graceful save when a product name gets misspelled.
    18. 18. Strategy #1 | (Re)Configure your site search engine <ul><li>Example: Synonyms </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Car </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Warning, some effort required! </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Search analytics hint: Seed your list with terms from search logs that people really use. Remember those null-results terms? </li></ul></ul>Automobile Truck Streetcar Sedan…
    19. 19. Strategy #1 | (Re)Configure your site search engine <ul><li>Example: Best Bets </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Associate keywords with specific results for your most frequent searches and most important pages </li></ul></ul>Best Bet
    20. 20. Strategy #1 | (Re)Configure your site search engine Example: Narrowing options Fast platform allows narrowing according to tagging and site structure “ more from…” “ Search within…”
    21. 21. Strategy #2 | Improve the Search UI <ul><li>Just like any other page component, search should be easy to understand and use </li></ul><ul><li>Search AND Results screens require excellent layout and readability so they are not confusing </li></ul><ul><li>Search should be well integrated into the navigation and design of the site </li></ul><ul><li>Tactics: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Provide a next step, especially on the null results page </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Tips & Examples </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Results page layout – let users refine their searches </li></ul></ul>
    22. 22. Strategy #2 | Improve the Search UI <ul><li>Search Results Bare Minimum Guidelines </li></ul><ul><li>Display the query & let them modify it on the results page </li></ul><ul><li>Make it easy to begin a new search </li></ul><ul><li>Show at least 10 results at a time </li></ul><ul><li>Show the total number of results and make it clear which range the user is viewing </li></ul><ul><li>Make it easy to navigate between results pages </li></ul><ul><li>Avoid dead-ends - provide USEFUL tips and help on the Null-Results page </li></ul><ul><li>Each result should include USEFUL information </li></ul>
    23. 23. Strategy #2 | Improve the Search UI <ul><li>Example: Accenture - a good use of best practices </li></ul>Synonym suggestion Best Bets Editable query Good site integration including key calls to action Links to alternatives and tips Descriptive results w/ highlighted keywords Clear count & page nav. Too much scrolling? Tells search terms and search zone
    24. 24. Strategy #3 | Make Your Content More Findable <ul><li>Just tag it! </li></ul><ul><li>The quality of your search is directly related to the quality of your content and the way it’s organized, including the content’s metadata </li></ul><ul><li>Enhancing your content with metatags, rich textual descriptions, and taxonomies means that your search has more to go on when assigning relevance </li></ul><ul><li>Metadata can also let you give the user more options for searching and displaying results </li></ul><ul><li>Search Analytics hint: Search Logs can provide insight into the attributes users care most about </li></ul>
    25. 25. Strategy #3 | Make Your Content More Findable Example: IBM - Metadata tagging enables narrowing options. Geography – especially important for international sites! Product/Service Taxonomy
    26. 26. Strategy #3 | Make Your Content More Findable <ul><li>Include Audience-Oriented Language in Your Content </li></ul><ul><li>When writing content for your site include the kinds of keywords and search terms that your users would use to search </li></ul><ul><li>Especially important when you have content that is heavily peppered with jargon and marketing-speak </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Will your users really search for the “Dyna-whiZZZ” ??? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Accompany with rich, descriptive copy </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Including descriptive ALT tags for graphical content </li></ul><ul><li>Search Analytics Hint: Search logs are a great source for not only individual terms but overall language tone </li></ul>
    27. 27. Strategy #4 | Customize to Take Search to the Next Level <ul><li>Custom modifications are justified when search is truly a core service. </li></ul><ul><li>Customization means adding new functionality that extends beyond what came with the search engine you purchased </li></ul><ul><li>Can be a serious investment whether you build or buy – must be justified by business goals + user needs </li></ul><ul><li>Difficulty to implement depends on your search platform </li></ul>
    28. 28. Strategy #4 | Customize to Take Search to the Next Level Example: ProQuest – Tagging + Data Mining + Custom UI Special features: Search alerts Complex algorithms suggest index terms Many ways to limit, filter & narrow Marked List – like a shopping cart for results and full text.
    29. 29. Strategy #4 | Customize to Take Search to the Next Level Example: Kayak – Uses Ajax to filter and sort “on the fly” Sortable columns Checkboxes offer instant ways to refine a search Slider tools offer an intuitive way to adjust criteria
    30. 30. Strategy #4 | Customize to Take Search to the Next Level Example: Kartoo – Visual, interactive search results (Flash) Terms show semantic connections Map layout let users visualize content and concept clusters
    31. 31. Strategy #4 | Customize to Take Search to the Next Level Example: www.msdewey.com – a search “experience” Flash 9 video animated character – with xtra attitude Mouse position controls scrolling Certain searches cause entertaining video sequences Results courtesy of MS Live Search Design courtesy of Evolution Bureau
    32. 32. In Closing… <ul><li>The perfect search is a moving target… </li></ul><ul><li>Quick-hits vs. long term improvements </li></ul><ul><li>A good first step is to find out if you are capturing analyzable data (in server logs or search logs) then examine it </li></ul><ul><li>Ongoing maintenance - “best bets” and metadata tagging are not one-time fixes </li></ul><ul><li>If you DO need to replace your search engine - find out what each particular search engine does best (and worst) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Forrester Wave report on Enterprise Search Platforms </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Enterprise Search Report available at CMS Watch </li></ul></ul>
    33. 33. In Closing… <ul><li>Questions? </li></ul><ul><li>White Paper: Tuning Up Site Search </li></ul><ul><li>Available for download at http://www.enlighten.com </li></ul><ul><li>Contact: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Chris Farnum, Senior Information Architect [email_address] </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Enlighten Interactive Marketing | Web Development | Strategic Consulting </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Ann Arbor, Michigan | www.enlighten.com </li></ul></ul></ul>