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Enterprise Search: Where You Get to Be Larry Page...No, Really!

Marianne Sweeny

I had the pleasure of attending the Enterprise Search Summit in Washington DC a couple of weeks ago. I am passionate about enterprise search because, in my honest opinion, that is where the future of SEO lies.

For businesses large and small, there is a growing awareness of the need for professional services to configure and optimize search within the firewall. Customers are eager to know more by the number of sessions and packed rooms for the sessions on enterprise search user experience, knowledge management and taxonomy.

And it is no wonder in light of the alarming consequences.

The IDG High Cost of Finding Information Survey found that:

  • Knowledge workers spend 15-35% of their time looking for information
  • 40% cannot find information they need to do their jobs
  • 50% of intranet searches are abandoned

For an organization of 1,000 workers with an average salary of $80,000, that becomes a $6 million loss in the cost of time spent looking and not finding. (This does not include the lost productivity of the coworker interrupted to help find said information or the cost of rework due to not finding the information.)

So, when is the SEO community going to clue in? Enterprise search optimization rules because SEOs get to be Larry Page, in total control of what works and how it works specifically for the customer. Enterprise search is bespoke search, the absolute best kind, and here's why.

In Web SEO, we're constantly justifying our existence because we cannot really map an increase in rank to the work that we've done. In Enterprise SEO, your user group is more immediate and can "testify" that they are spending less time looking because of less time needed for finding.

In Web SEO, we have to hope that the search engine algorithm finds our work authoritative or on topic. In Enterprise SEO, the search engine administrator declares authoritative content because they know the workplace, the culture, the content.

In Web SEO, the search engines decide what to index, when and how to retain. In Enterprise SEO, the search administrator has full control over the indexing process.

In Web SEO, we have to hope and pray that our page appears in the top results. In Enterprise SEO, the search administrator can manually designate a Best Bet, e.g. assign the best result to frequent search queries.

In Web SEO, we have to beg for links and subscribe to a link pecking order applied by the search engines. In Enterprise SEO, links between documents are a rarity that means no rules to break, not bad habits to overcome for a pristine link landscape that is ours for the designing...if we want.

So Let's Be Larry, Except Nicer

Let's face it. The only things that work flawlessly "out of the box" are cereal and Legos. So, why do we think that the search function on that bright, shiny platform or search engine is going to work flawlessly for the enterprise content and users "out of the box"? It does not.

We need to make it work that way, and make sure it keeps working that way. Google uses over 200 algorithms to produce a search results page. They are compensating for a lack of direct knowledge about the user base (so, using a a variety of general user behavior patterns and predictive modeling). They also have to accommodate a broad range of document types, potential manipulation (of context, content and machine understanding). Here is how:

Discovery: Spend time with stakeholders to develop requirements. Use an anonymous survey for your colleagues to isolate pain points.

Define: Scope, content resources, content owners, security needs and governance.

Evaluate: Authority resources, content tagging, meta data or annotation. Review search logs/server logs to find common searches, abandoned sessions and searches that produce zero results. Isolate the most important documents that colleagues should find (e.g. what stakeholders want them to want) and ones that are most popular (e.g. what they do want).

Design: Take some time to customize the search experience so that colleagues can employ various search techniques, filters, facets, search recommendations, spell check, query auto complete.

Review and refine: Recruit "power users" to provide direct user feedback on search functionality. Review search logs for query-result mapping and other manual intervention opportunities.

It is not hard. It is important. It will save your company a lot of money. It will make your colleagues very happy.

Enterprise search is where SEO is not only needed, it is welcomed. That’s a nice change of scenery, isn’t it?

Author bio:

Marianne Sweeny is a Search Information Architect at Portent Inc. She is passionate about optimizing the user search experience on the Web or inside the enterprise firewall. Marianne's last article for SEMrush was "One Ring to Unite Us All."

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Marianne Sweeny is VP of Internet Marketing for Strategic Edge Partners, a medical marketing agency. She is passionate about optimizing the user search experience on the Web or inside the enterprise firewall. Marianne’s most recent article for SEMrush was entitled: "SEOs, Guns & Religion."
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