// Commented out mbk Feb 2019 // //
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Enterprise Search Blog

Should You Fire Your Search Vendor?

By: Miles Kehoe

We’ve been in the business of helping our customers with enterprise search for more years than I like to think about. We left early search vendor Verity to start New Idea Engineering because we were excited by the promise of enterprise search, and had a feeling that methodology, not technology, was what was preventing enterprise search from really delivering the promise of search early users expected.

We quickly discovered that, regardless of the search platform, users experienced the same frustrations. And as we came to work with other search technology, we quickly saw that the problems people were having with search were mostly methodology, not technology.

As the internet became increasingly popular, and large public ‘search engines’ like Yahoo, AltaVista, and Google began to catch on, enterprise users became familiar with the way Internet search worked, and their expectations shifted. Suddenly, enterprise platforms like Verity and Fulcrum were perceived as not working properly: user expectations had shifted.

In fact, enterprise search face challenges the public services don’t have. In the enterprise, search has to deal with minimum, if any, staffing; repository and document level security; poor metadata; and generally, a single ‘right’ document amid a gaggle of near duplicates.

No wonder ‘search sucks’! And since one of the things we do in our search practice is help clients select the right search solution that meets their requirements. We are the ‘Search Whisperers’. bit.ly/2t6lE8l. The bad news is sometimes companies unhappy with search will get a copy of the latest magic list that names a dozen vendors; pick the top vendor; and spend a lot of money implementing a new product that may or may not be best for them. And repeat the process in two or three years.

Bad idea. The best search platform for any given organization if the one that meets the requirements; but even then, enterprise search is not ‘Fire and Forget’. Amazon search is not; Google search is not; and no matter what grid you study, the top platform is not either.

What you need to do before firing your search vendor

You've reached the point where you are beginning to feel it's time to end the relationship. Before you do, are you sure you're not compatible? Read our checklist of five things you can do to save your relationship with your enterprise search vendor.

So you have an existing enterprise search solution - either serving intranet or customer-facing content. You had great expectations for the application, but it hasn't worked out the way you had hoped. Your users are unhappy, and complain about not being able to find the information they need. Maybe customers continue to call your support group for answers since they cannot find help on your web site. Or your sales remained flat after the roll-out of the new search. What can you do?

We know of companies that, faced with these kinds of problems, went out and bought a new search engine. Sadly, they often find themselves in the same mess a year later, after throwing lots of time and money at the problem. Most of these companies have a search technology that industry analysts have ranked highly. You may too. But why give up and try your luck with the magic beans from another highly ranked vendor before you really understand the nature of the problem? You've got highly ranked technology: now you need better methodology.

The good news is that the methodologies of great enterprise search are not expensive, and they are not difficult to do. But you need to know what they are.

Are You Doing Your Part?

We're in the business of helping companies solve this kind of problem. We start by reviewing your requirements and your implementation, but our intent is to help you make your existing search engine work the way it should by monitoring search activity and results and by tuning results over time.

Search applications are not like many enterprise applications - they need to be monitored and tuned as things change. Database applications are easy compared to search. Sure, the content may change every day, but the structure of the content - and the types of searches - are always of a known format.

With search, the content is changing all the time, but the folks searching, and queries entered, are different every day. It seems to be a race between the search vendors to make a better, smarter search and the universe to make a better idiot to do the searching. And the universe seems to be winning.

Our approach to solving the problem starts with an audit of your installation, your interface, and your search activity. We want to understand what the problem is.

Do your users employ the same vocabulary your content authors use? Have you tried the searches yourself, to identify the documents that come back? Have you looked for product on your site?

Do you know your top search queries? Many companies find that a histogram of query terms and frequencies shows a typical "long tail" graph. Some queries occur often, while others are outliers. We help you find those common terms and build a methodology for you to work on improving the results of those queries. We call this the "Top 100" problem: if your top 100 queries return great results, you've got happy users. Then you move on to the next 100, and so on.

You also want to look at the "long tail". Terms there indicate vocabulary mismatches, spelling errors, or a user who doesn't understand the nature of your content. In fact, a colleague recently suggested that many of the long tail queries are, in fact, misspelled top terms.

Fix the former with thesaurus entries, synonym terms, or a good spelling solution. For the latter, you're on your own!