Until organizations introduce processes that prioritize findability, then site search will continue to fail miserably.
E-commerce search is “broken” according to a 2014 study by Baymard Institute. Among the top 50 e-commerce sites that Baynard studied, “a whopping 70 percent of the search engines are unable to return relevant results for product type synonyms — requiring users to search using the exact same jargon as the site — while 34 percent of the sites don’t return useful results when users search for a model number or misspell just a single character in the product title.”
That’s for e-commerce websites who depend on good search to sell things. It’s like you walking into a shop and the staff refusing to sell to you because you didn’t pronounce the product’s name properly. If the situation is bad for e-commerce websites, it’s far worse for other site search and as far intranets go, usually it’s absolutely awful.
According to an article in semanticweb.com, “There’s one thing that Tom Reamy, chief knowledge architect at KAPS Group, says is a continual refrain among enterprise business users: Search sucks. IT regularly attempts to make things better by buying new search engines and for a while, everything’s good — until content grows and things start to go downhill again. Enterprise search, he explained to an audience at Enterprise Search & Discovery summit, 'is never going to be solved by search engine technology' alone.”
To solve search we must think about finding, not searching. We must think content, not technology. At a fundamental level, we need to change the way we reward staff and manage findability. Right now, we reward based on inputs: hours worked, content created and published, projects launched. It is enough for a content professional to say to their manager: “Here is the content I’ve created.” The manager will not ask them: “How findable is your content?” Unless findability becomes a management metric then search will continue to fail.
There is something else involved. Organizations are simply not used to having empowered customers who know what they want. They are much more used to telling customers through marketing, PR or news, what the organization wants them to want. The idea of an independent customer who comes to website with a task that they want to complete is simply an alien concept for many organizations.
We live in the age of Big Data and findability is one of the key competitive advantages that any organization can have. The stock market understands this. (Just look at Google.) And yet, the investment in findability / search management is absolutely awful in most organizations. That must change.
If the product can’t be found, does the product exist? If the feature can’t be found, does the feature exist? Management focus must shift away from the production of stuff to the findability and use of stuff.
About the Author
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. His latest book is titled The Stranger's Long Neck: How to Deliver What Your Customers Really Want Online.
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