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Enterprise Search: Top Tips for Enterprise Search

Last Updated Dec 2008

By: Mark Bennett, Volume 2 - Number 7 - July/August 2005

It's not easy being the person responsible for enterprise search within an organization. It takes technical expertise, the ability to divine the answers your users want to questions they don't know how to ask, and a good, thick skin. And it helps to have an understanding manager for when some Vice President comes by and asks "Why isn't our search as good as Google?" Here are a few tips to help you survive - and give good search!

  1. Make sure you are indexing all the right content

    When you installed your search engine, you probably set up all the include (and exclude) directories you needed - then. Have you added entire new sections of your web site? For dated content in URL paths, did you remember to add 2005 to the pattern last January?

    How many documents does your engine return? Make sure that count doesn't go down for your important queries unless you know why it went down! See Poor Data Quality gives Enterprise Search a Bad Rap.

  2. Check the status of your index jobs

    We had one customer who was unhappy about his search engine not finding new documents. When we got on site for our K2 Checkup, we discovered the reason: his nightly index jobs had not run in over a year!

    Now, we're sure you check your index job status periodically so this cannot happen to you, right? Don't trust the server to email you in case of a problem; don't assume that no news is good news. Go, look at your logs every time they run.

  3. Keep track of your search statistics

    Nearly all enterprise search software keeps activity logs; but how much can you really learn by looking at an XML file? Write a macro to import the search logs into Excel, or buy a search analytic solution like New Idea Engineering's SearchTrack. Just make sure that you and your users know who is searching for what; and what they are not finding.

  4. Make sure your search is fast

    With all the things you wan to do to enhance search engine relevance, make darned sure your search is fast - ideally sub-second, worst case three seconds for any query to complete. If not, your users will not be happy and you'll hear about it - and if you don't, that means they gave up on you!

    If you do query cooking as described in Intelligent Query Pre-Processing from August 2003 and in The Art and Science of Query Cooking in this month's issue, make sure your queries are not slowing down your queries. See item 8 below!

  5. Make search ubiquitous

    A few years back, it was claimed that nearly 50% of site visitors went first to a site search engine for those sites that had a highly visible search box. Because most enterprise search is so bad, that number may have fallen; but you still will find that having a search box on every page will make your users much more likely to use it. Not a link to a search page; not a link at the bottom of the page. Right up top where everyone can see it. On every page, and on every result list!

  6. Keep your search results clean and simple

    It's been said before, but it's true: clean and simple is best. Ever wonder why Google is so popular? Take a look at your search page, then look at Google.

  7. Test your results

    Using important documents that you know should come up - your CEO's name, your company's flagship product, the most recent annual report. Put yourself in the user's mind and try the queries he or she will probably use. Cant figure out the user vocabulary? Check your logs!

  8. Find external and internal resources and use them

    The resources to help you might include your predecessor, one of the old-timers in your department, your vendor technical staff and web site, a user group, or trusted outside consultants. And don't forget to check the web for helpful sites and newsletters - you got this, didn't you?

    There, that wasn't as bad as you thought, was it?