Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Strategies for Improving Enterprise Search

Enhancing enterprise search usability ...

"It’s common for enterprise website developers to implement search engines with out-of-the-box functionality, point it at their content repositories, and then just leave it at that. Search is becoming something of a neglected orphan, in part because packaged search products are relatively easy to implement, and then even more easily forgotten.

Unfortunately, the results are too often plagued by problems. You know something’s gone wrong when a perfectly clear query returns results that are not only irrelevant, but seemingly deranged. Pages with a logical relationship to the initial request compete for placement among what Jared Spool fittingly calls “wacko results.”1 The majority of participants walking into my usability tests report they don’t trust embedded site search to help them find what they’re looking for.

Quality search results only come about through applied effort, requiring in particular the skills of an information architect.2 And IAs must be ready to go well beyond their traditional front-end role, digging into the functional backend and source data of the search engine. This article outlines how we can bolster findability and win back users’ confidence.
Conceptualizing the Task

The results of any given search are impossible to predict with precision (short of having tried it before). That’s because five distinct variables combine to determine its outcome (Figure 1):

1. Search engine. The algorithmic gears that parse the query and assign pages relevance.
2. Content. The documents searched.
3. Index. A catalog of the locations of every word in every document. This is what allows Google to miraculously find 5 billion instances of the word “the” in 0.2 seconds.
4. User input. The keywords and other parameters the user submits.
5. Results display. The way the data returned by the search engine is presented."    (Continued via Boxes and Arrows)    [Usability Resources]

Five Site Search Variables - Usability, User Interface Design

Five Site Search Variables

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