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Fixing Enterprise Search Without Changing Code

Too many of the business clients I work with feel that they are powerless when it comes to fixing their enterprise search problems. While these individuals are able to say what content is relevant, they feel dependent on IT to fix any search problems that arise. Search does not have to work this way. One of my clients improved the accuracy of their search results by 300% by using nothing but search analytics, their content management system (CMS), and a configuration of some simple features that are found in most search engines. In this blog, I will share four approaches that we use at Enterprise Knowledge to improve the relevancy and accuracy of search results without changing search engines or writing custom code.

Enterprise Search Engine Optimization

The first solution to fixing your search without an IT background is doing what I call “Enterprise Search Engine Optimization (ESEO).” Just like Google, enterprise search engines have their own search weighting algorithms to control the order of search results. Unlike Google, however, these algorithms are simple and rarely change. For example, each instance of your search term in the title of the document might be worth 100 points, the abstract worth 20, and the body worth 1 point. Moving an important term to the title would add 100 points to the relevancy rating. Find out how your search engine weighting is set up and you can begin to control the order of your search results. 

The best place to begin tackling this Enterprise Search Engine Optimization is by starting with the top 20 search terms. Enter the most popular search term and decide which results should be in the top 5. Then, correct the search order by adding the search term to the title or abstract. Lastly, re-execute the search and keep making corrections until you get the search result order you want. Repeat this process for the rest of the top 20 search terms and you will have a huge improvement in your customers’ search experience. The top 20 search terms in some intranets represent as much as 30% of the searches. Spending a couple of hours on ESEO each month will have a huge impact on the success of your search engine.

Best Bets

A similar solution to this problem involves using the best bets or promoted items feature of your search engine. While this is a brute force approach to fixing search, it can be a great way to ensure that specific content always appears first for important search terms. We approach the use of best bets functionality in the same way that we handle ESEO. Begin by looking at the list of the top 20 search terms. If one of these search terms has an obvious result that should always appear first, add it as a best bet. Most search engines let you do this by entering a search term and then pointing at the search result that should appear first.

Synonyms

One of the primary reasons that content is not appearing in search when it should be is due to the way that search is utilizing acronyms or abbreviations. This problem can be corrected using your search engine’s synonym/thesaurus functionality. Many search engines have an administrative screen for managing synonyms. Get access to this screen and create synonyms for your most common acronyms so that people who search, for instance, for “EK” also find “Enterprise Knowledge.” If the search engine does not have a screen that a business user can leverage, ask your IT person how you can send them a list of  synonyms so that they can load them into the search engine (I know this second option requires IT, but the business is still driving the results).

Keywords

Another reason that your search may not surface specific documents is because there is a problem with a document, rather than a term or abbreviation. There are some documents that should be found using a particular search term even if that term is not in the title or body of the document. In this case use the keywords field found in most content types. Keywords were once used as a replacement for taxonomies so that content could more easily be tagged. As organizations have matured their content models (adding metadata and taxonomies), the keywords field has become less important. These fields still exist in many content types and they tend to have a higher weighting in search relevancy calculations than the body or a piece of content. Add the search term to the keywords field and the document will begin to appear in the search results. If necessary, ask IT to increase the weighting on this field so that you have more control over how high the search result appears.

These four approaches to fixing search do not require IT and can make a huge difference in the accuracy of your search results. One of our clients implemented this process and saw the percentage of selected search results that were in the first three items jump from 12% to over 33% after just two weeks of tuning. You can do the same thing with your search. Additionally, by having all of the above recommendations be guided by a search governance plan, you can ensure that there is consistent decision-making that promotes the best interest of your end users. Are you interested in improving your current search environment either by implementing a new search engine or fixing the one that you are already using? Our search consultants can help you turn search from a point of frustration to the destination where users go to find the information they are looking for. Contact us at info@enterprise-knowledge.com.

Joe Hilger Joe Hilger A senior technologist with expertise in search, content management, and unstructured information. He focuses on creating solutions that have a meaningful impact for his clients. More from Joe Hilger »