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What to do Before You Replace Your Search Engine


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Due diligence before replacing your current search engine. Presented at the 2009 Enterprise Search Summit.

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What to do Before You Replace Your Search Engine

  1. 1. Sara James<br />What to do Before You Purchase a New Search Engine<br />
  2. 2. Agenda<br />Background<br />Why Search Engines Succeed<br />Why Search Engines Fail<br />Pre-replacement Troubleshooting / Checklist<br />
  3. 3. Not all search is created equal<br />
  4. 4. Background: Why Search Matters<br />Users love search for two reasons: <br />Search lets users control their own destiny and assert independence from websites' attempt to direct how they use the Web: "I don't want to have to navigate this site the way they want me to. I just want to find the thing I'm looking for." This is why many users go straight to the home page search function. <br />Search is also users' escape hatch when they are stuck in navigation. <br />Jakob Nielsen, Search: Visible and Simple:<br />
  5. 5. Background: Why Search Matters<br />Search makes users feel empowered: <br />Search lets users use their own vocabulary.<br />Search allows users to use full questions or keywords.<br />Search feels quick and nimble.<br />Search results often show enough of the “answer” the user is looking for that they can bypass opening the article, thereby saving time. <br />
  6. 6. Background: Why Search Matters<br />When Search fails…users may believe:<br />the search is at fault.<br />the website/portal technology is flawed.<br />the content doesn’t exist.<br />they don’t understand the company (or worse, conversely, that the company doesn’t understand them).<br />When these things happen, users lose faith in:<br />the technology.<br />the company.<br />themselves.<br />When users lose faith in themselves, they will stop using self-service offerings.<br />
  7. 7. Why Search Engines Succeed<br />Search engines succeed when:<br />Search is properly calibrated.<br />Content exists to meet user needs.<br />Content is properly written for the search.<br />
  8. 8. Why Search Engines Succeed: Calibrating Search<br />Many major search engines have stopped using meta tags to improve relevance ranking, and some have even stopped indexing meta tags, because of the increase (or at least the perceived increase) in meta tag spamming or spoofing.<br />But, the versions of these engines that companies buy for their websites are calibrated differently, because they have less user data to rely on.<br />Therefore, it is critical that you know how your engine needs to be calibrated for your user base in your environment.<br />
  9. 9. Why Search Engines Succeed: Robust Content Collection<br />Search cannot find content that doesn’t exist; but users experience it as a “failed search attempt”.<br />You need to know the content that is best suited for your website.<br />You need to let your users know what topics will and won’t exist on your website to prevent them searching for non-existent content.<br />
  10. 10. Why Search Engines Succeed: Using Metadata<br />Content should have standardized metadata (for your content collection).<br />Content should be tagged with the appropriate metadata. <br />Search should be calibrated to look at your metadata.<br />Metadata<br />Title<br />Author<br />Department<br />Audience<br />Topic<br />
  11. 11. Why Search Engines Succeed: Using Taxonomies<br />Taxonomies organize your content.<br />Taxonomies and metadata provide structural foundation for content. <br />Some search engines are specifically designed to work with taxonomies.<br />Taxonomies can be used for back-end organization and front-end user browsing.<br />
  12. 12. Why Search Engines Fail<br /><br />Search engines fail when:<br />Search is improperly calibrated.<br />The technical infrastructure cannot support search.<br />Insufficient bandwidth.<br />Out of date software, hardware, etc.<br />Content does not exist.<br />Content is improperly formatted.<br />Metadata and taxonomies are missing or poorly designed.<br /><br />
  13. 13. Troubleshooting Your Engine - Work with the vendor <br />
  14. 14. Troubleshooting Your Engine - Work with the vendor <br />
  15. 15. Troubleshooting Your Search Engine<br />
  16. 16. What you can do without purchasing a new engine<br />Audit your content<br />Standardize.<br />Fix problem titles, keywords, and organization.<br />Ensure the top 80% of user requested content topics have content.<br />Ensure metadata is standardized and applied throughout the collection.<br />Ensure taxonomy fits the body of content.<br />
  17. 17. What you can do without purchasing a new engine<br />Enhance your thesaurus<br />Use search logs to see what users search for, then map to your internal language.<br />Conduct focus groups with cross-sections of your company, and external users.<br />Use “novice user” language in your content, map it to your jargon in the thesaurus.<br />
  18. 18. What you can do without purchasing a new engine<br />
  19. 19. If Search Still Fails and You Want a New Engine<br />However, if you cannot identify the root causes of the current failure and resolve them, be prepared for some of the same problems with any new engine.<br />
  20. 20. Thank you!<br />