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Make Your Site FAQs Enterprise Search Friendly

Last Updated Mar 2009

By: Mark Bennett & Miles Kehoe - NIE Tech Staff - Issue 5 - October, 2003

Introduction

You create FAQs and related documents, downloads, and information to enable self-service for web site visitors and to reduce your overall support costs. Most visitors will use search to locate content, so if your enterperise search doesn't return the right document, your site visitor does not find your content, and you have not reduced your costs.

One of the biggest problems we have seen with FAQs is the tendency to include a large number of questions and answers on a single HTML page, typically with anchor links. We call this type of web page layout the “FAQ format”, which usually features a ‘table of contents’ at the top of that page, followed by a very long page dedicated to dozens of question/answers pairs.

For example, see the Sun Java FAQ page at http://java.sun.com/products/jdk/faq.html. You’ll note that each question at the top is hyperlinked to an ‘anchor tag’ further down on the same page. Newspaper sites often have the same problem because a number of unrelated feature articles often display on the same page.

While a human who finds your FAQ page will often browse to find an answer, your enterprise search engine sees this page as a single result. There are two problems that ensue:

  1. If a single FAQ page answers dozens of questions, the chances that it will come up in a variety of unrelated searches is very high, adding to ‘noise’ in results lists.
  2. Even if the user’s query is addressed directly by the FAQ page, the chances the result list summary will lead the visitor to view the page are remote.

Contrast the Sun Java page I mentioned above to the Dell Customer Care FAQ at http://support.us.dell.com/us/en/faq.asp. This table of contents links to a unique page for each question/answer page, which means that Dell’s search technology is much more able to locate relevant individual pages.

Solutions

There are several ways to solve the problem of poor FAQ coverage by your search technology. The two we have seen most frequently are either:

  1. Modify your Content
  2. Utilize Filtering Technology

Both methods have their benefits and disadvantages.

Content Modification

Perhaps the easiest from a technology standpoint is to create your FAQs such that each question/answer pair is on a unique HTML page. You can, of course, still have a hyperlinked table of contents; but when each FAQ is presented on its own unique page, your search technology can actually display the correct page, with a relevant summary, in the search result list.

Single-page FAQs are typically supported by the better FAQ creation tools, and can easily be created in your existing content management system if you still create their content the old fashioned way. In either case, be sure that the meta-tags you use on each page are relevant to the specific question./answer pair.

Dynamic Filtering

Another alternative which requires less content effort but which may require significant development effort is to create a filter for your enterprise search technology that can create ‘virtual pages’ on the fly, such that the documents that display in visitor search result lists summaries subsection of documents. In an enterprise search engine like Verity or Hummingbird, this would typically require either a customer filter, or modifications to the spider process.

Nonetheless, this solution does offer the ability to solve your content problem using automated technology, and may be a more desirable short-term solution. If you choose to implement such a capability, you can still create new FAQ documents in the one-per-page format so that, eventually, your FAQ format filter is increasingly unnecessary.

Summary

If one of your web site goals is to reduce costs by enabling self-service, you need to have a FAQ system that integrates well with your search and navigation. Knowing what your site visitors are searching for is part of the answer; but understanding how your site layout interacts with your enterprise search is critical. If your visitor can’t find information, you’re going to actually see increased costs because they will resort to calling your hotline or sales support organization – the one you didn’t want to spend more money on when you decided to add all this content to your web site.