Intranet search performs miserably because most organizations do not properly manage their content.Most intranet search delivers lamentably poor results. Time and time again, I hear staff plead: "Why can't we just get Google?" But buying Google-or any other search engine for that matter-will not solve the problem.
There are three reasons why Google works so well, and two of them have absolutely nothing to do with technology. Certainly, Google is a great technology. It is well designed, fast, robust.
The next time you search with Google, pause for a moment and observe the first 10 results. No matter what you have searched for you can be pretty much guaranteed that every one of those first 10 results wanted to get found.
Not alone did they want to get found, they worked hard to get found. They created web content in a way that maximizes its chances of getting into the first page of search results. Most intranet content doesn't want to get found.
I talked to a person a while ago who was back from a conference. In getting permission to go to the conference, he was told that he would have to do a report on the conference and publish it on the intranet. I saw what he was about to publish and it wasn't very good.
The author readily admitted it wasn't very good. In fact, he didn't want it to be good because if it was good then he'd be getting lots of emails with extra questions and that would be a waste of his time, in his opinion. This person had no incentive to share, no incentive to write quality content, no incentive to get found.
If you want to find a bad website, just look for one that has poor linking. If you examine a particular piece of content and see very few links by the author to other pieces of relevant content, that says a lot. If you see lots of PDFs and PowerPoints and other files, that says a lot too.
What it says is that the intranet is being treated as a document management system. It is a place where you store content; a data warehouse. Authors don't have time to think about linking content to other relevant content.
For example, let's say you're in the section where you book a taxi. It would be useful to link to the policy relating to booking taxis. If you have content on 2006 annual sales for Product X, then it would be useful to link to 2005 annual sales for Product X.
Linking is a key way modern search engines use to understand what content is important and what content is not important. Basically, the more content gets linked to the more important it is.
Too many intranets are being filled with garbage-poor quality, badly written, badly structured, second-hand content. This content is "put up" by an army of low-skilled put-it-uppers. It doesn't matter what sort of fancy search technology you have-it's garbage in, garbage out.
Until organizations deal with their content professionally, they will get the search results-and the intranets-that they deserve.
Gerry McGovern, a content management author and consultant
, has spoken, written and consulted extensively on writing for the web and web content management issues since 1994.