Your employees and site visitors are talking to you: are you listening?

Virtually everyone involved in search has heard of SEO: the art of promoting your site to appear near the top on Google and other web search platforms for specific terms and concepts. Organizations worldwide spend millions of dollars each year to show up higher in search results lists.

It basically comes down to two ways to rank number one on Google: "organic results" — those that show up because the content is actually relevant, and "paid results" — when companies pay per click to boost results.

Why does this go on? Because most public-facing websites' intent is to drive traffic to their site. And with so much duplicate or near-duplicate content on the web, it can be hard to have your organization’s voice heard.

For example, a search for "the Battle of Waterloo” yields over 20 million results — and I’d bet all of them have virtually the same content. British and French sites may have different views on battle, but all can agree: Napoleon lost.

But from the user point of view, Google (and to a lesser extent, the other big search engines) do a pretty good job of returning relevant content.

Search Sucks. What Are You Doing About It?

Unlike SEO, few people have heard of Enterprise SEO or eSEO. Essentially this is SEO within the enterprise.

Organizations display internal or private site search only to employees and contractors. Large or highly structured companies may even have different security levels, limiting access to specific groups or individuals.

And yet almost universally, employees lament that search sucks. Why is this?

Compare how organizations staff for Internet search versus internal search. Staffing, budget and funding go to public facing sites, while very few organizations devote the same staffing to internal search.

A report a few years ago by Kristian Norling, then at Findwise, found that many organizations have no specific budget for enterprise search. Half of the respondents to its 2013 annual survey reported they have, on average, less than 1 full time person responsible for search. The 2014 survey showed some progress in addressing the problem, but still — it's no wonder search sucks.

Learning Opportunities

How can this be? Enterprise search generally falls under IT or Communications. Marketing runs SEO. Who do you suppose gets the funding? 

But that’s not the full answer. 

Methodology plays a big part. And the folks on the SEO team get it.

Improve Your Search

You can’t fix what you don’t measure. Chances are good your internal search platform has a ways to go to log query activity. If that's not the case, your server logs may hold the information, which has the added benefit of providing the IP address from which the query was initiated. But if you are not recording actual queries on your internal sites, you’re missing out on useful information.

At a minimum, you want to know what queries were done and by whom, and what page(s) were viewed. Beyond those minimum statistics, you want to how many results were returned; which, if any, were viewed; and what other queries were done in the same session.

The reports you need to see and review with your team include top queries, top document views and the number of results returned. Note that, with secure content, this number will vary based on the access level of each searcher. You also need the "zero hits" report, showing those queries which returned no hits at all. 

If you’re not already doing so, share the results with your external SEO team, and ask them to share the results with you for internal SEO. You can use that information to start improving your internal search.

This information will prove invaluable to you and your content team, and will give you an idea where you need to focus your efforts: new content, new synonyms and stop words. It takes time and money to staff intranet search. But even without tangible benefits, I can almost guarantee you it’s cheaper to fix your current engine than to replace it every few years — behavior I’ve witnesses at any number of Fortune 500 companies over the years.

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