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Enterprise Search Blog

Winning Methodologies for Enterprise Search

Like many organizations, you probably have an existing enterprise search solution - serving intranet or customer-facing content, perhaps even e-commerce. You had great expectations for the solution, 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 or even dropped after the roll-out of the new search. What can you do?

We know of companies that, when faced with these kinds of issues, went out and bought a new search engine. It cost significant time and money, but sadly they found themselves in the same mess a year later, after throwing much more time and money at the problem.

Most of these companies use a search technology that industry analysts have ranked highly. You may use one of them yourself. But before you give up and try your luck with the magic beans from another highly ranked vendor, why not really understand the nature of the problem? You probably are using a highly rated platform: 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.

We’re often asked to help solve this kind of problem. We start by reviewing requirements and implementations, but our intent is to help make the existing search platform work the way it should by monitoring search activity and results and by tuning results over time.

Database applications are conceptually similar to search. As with search, database content may change frequently, even many times a day; but the structure of the content - and the types of searches - are always of a known format. Enterprise search applications have to deal with similar data - but unlike SQL, the queries are different every day. We’re stuck in a race between the search vendors to make better, smarter search platform and the universe that keeps making better dummies to do the searching. And the universe seems to be winning.

What can you do?

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? Is the content metadata accurate? Have you tried the searches yourself, to identify the documents that come back? Have you looked for product on your site?

Another big question: 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 often indicate vocabulary mismatches, spelling errors, or a user who doesn't understand the nature of your content. Fix the former with thesaurus entries, synonym terms, or a good spelling solution. And you may be surprised how may “long tail” terms are misspellings of “short head” queries.

Course of Action

Often the fix is simple, inexpensive, and can begin to solve the problem in weeks with minimum resources. Sadly, many organizations find us when it’s too late to save the existing platform: too many complaints by too many users and managers, and a change in platform has been dictated form on high.

On the other hand, a review of your current platform and operations can often identify relatively small and inexpensive methodologies that you can implement quickly to improve the user search experience, delver better results to your users, and perhaps increase satisfaction with your enterprise search platform.

And even if your organization is already on the path to replace the current search platform, beginning a methodology review at the same time will help insure success of the new platform.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. So does the journey to better enterprise search. We can help.