When most people think of search, they think of Google, its omnipotent little white box and immense cloud organizing the world’s information, waiting patiently for someone to ask a question in exchange for a few bits of advertising.

But search is much larger than Google, or any website search. Search is an important architectural approach for information design and management that has the potential to change how websites, portals and other content-based applications work.

Search-based architecture allows users to explore content based on its dynamic sets of topics, metadata and other attributes.

Think about using a modern e-commerce website where you may want to find a new pair of pants. You could look at clothes for men, for women, by size, by color, by activity and other facets. While you may not be typing in a search query for the pants, the website itself will adapt the content based on the selections you make.

Chances are all of these types of solutions are powered by a search index and architecture.

Our Understanding of Search

Search has always been a key component of web content management, but older WCM models have search as a standalone solution with a separate indexing engine and administration interface to set search and retrieval rules.

These disconnected solutions indexed the text of the content in the content repository, and in some cases, directly queried the content repository, returning a basic list of best results. Search engines didn’t have any understanding of the content, of the person running the query, couldn’t personalize the content or apply advanced search functionality that leveraged the structure of the content and its taxonomy.

The traditional approach to search within web content management doesn’t support a highly structured content hierarchy. It also doesn’t support the tailored, adaptive and predictive experiences you need to cut through the noise and reach your customers.

The way you structure your content directly relates to how useful it is. How you deliver it is the key to successfully meeting the needs of your customers. This is where a search-based architecture can help.

Search-based Architecture Defined

A search-based architecture places the search engine and the search index directly into the WCM platform. This makes the search engine a tightly integrated component of your web content management architecture.

In this model, the search index can be used to deliver content to your entire website, including your search results page and components within web pages such as recommended content and personalized offers.

Tightly integrated search, or a native search-based architecture, means the search engine can quickly index all content in your CMS — structured and unstructured — thus improving the discoverability of relevant content in a single experience. It can also leverage CMSs built-in taxonomy and metadata functionality to further improve the quality of the search results.

Search-Based Architecture in Action

So what would search-based architecture look like in action?

Bridge Information Silos

It’s rare all the content you need for your customer experience on the web or via mobile is in a single location. In a search-based architecture, you can connect a range of content repositories from your CMS to your CRM, file shares, other CMS repositories and more. Once all the disparate content is indexed by your search engine, querying to find the right information becomes more efficient.

Combine Structured and Unstructured Content into a Single View

Content experiences use a range of content types — documents, videos, web content and other — to provide the relevant information a customer requires. But customers don’t look for content based on content type. They ask a question and expect to have all the relevant content delivered regardless of format.

Integrated search enables you to index all content types, whether they are structured or unstructured and provide all the content within a single view. This single view should also include rich media assets such as videos and images - two primary sources of content in a digital experience.

Provide Real Time Access to Information

In a disconnected search experience, the index isn’t updated in real-time. So as you add new content and modify or delete existing content, the index doesn’t automatically get updated.

In a search-based architecture, the index updates as content is changed within the CMS and reflects the current content, ensuring the customer has the most recent information.

Personalize and Secure Search Experiences

The ability to tailor search results based on implicit and explicit profile information, including history on the site and recent usage, is critical for search.

Also important is the ability to secure content within search and show it only if a user or customer has approved access. In these instances, search experiences are used for customer portals, communities, and intranet/extranet scenarios.

Both personalized and secure search require a level of knowledge about the customer that is stored within the CMS either directly or through connections with other business applications. In a search-based architecture, this information is easily connected and used to deliver customized search results.

Scalable, Flexible Implementation

A search-based architecture reduces the amount of hardware required for the entire WCM platform implementation and supports easier upgrades. It also reduces the amount of development effort required when you need to integrate two separate technologies.

Search-Based Architecture is Changing the Web

More and more information is flooding the Internet. But all of this information is overwhelming, and your organization’s content can quickly get lost in the sea of information overload.

To provide your customers with the right information, when they need it, you must provide personalized, relevant and contextual content. You need to ensure the right information is discoverable and easy to explore.

A search-based architecture allows your organization to create experiences based on the customer’s interactions with you — both historical and real-time. It enables the dynamic presentation of content based on topics, metadata, security and other attributes, ensuring it is relevant to the customer’s specific needs.

If your information is hidden in your CMS and other organizational silos, your customers can’t find it. Getting the most relevant information in front of your customers when they need it can serve to increases customer satisfaction, improve conversions and develop strong, loyal relationships.

Title image by Cam Adams