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October 16, 2009

Search is getting better

A few years back I was often amazed how bad search was on web sites of some of the largest companies in the world. Some examples from personal experience:

  • I needed support on a laptop computer. Searching that vendor's site using the model number I copied from the back of the laptop produced 'no hits'. Trust me, I didn't make up the bizarre sequence of letters and numbers; it's their product. But not according to their search engine
  • Browsing for news at a major financial publisher's site, I suddenly found a result list full of content from file shares in their employee's 'My Documents' folder, including some marked 'confidential'. Not any more!
  • On some social and professional networking sites, I'd often go looking for old friends. Don't you hate when you look for "Jacob Smyth" (even with quotes!) and you find "John Smith" and "Jennifer Smitherman"? Me too.

But things seem to be getting better., The laptop manufacturer actually includes their product numbers on both the main site and the support site. The financial site no longer has any 'My Documents" content - that I can find; and networking sites seem to be getting better about suggesting friends by name.

But there is so much more to do! Go out of your way as you create your search application:

  • Impress the user by recognizing what she is looking for. If it's a name in your corporate directory, bring up the person's profile - name, email address, phone number. If it's a division name, bring up the divisions' web site as the first hit. Be psychic!
  • Use facets or guided navigation to lead the user to an answer. Amaze him with detail he may not have known.
  • Let the user provide feedback, and act on it! And when you do hear from a user, respond with an answer, and a time frame if you will be making a change that will address the feedback.

Sure, these things take time and cost money. But in the long run, isn't it cheaper than buying a new search engine and starting over from scratch?

/s/Miles

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