Not many website owners are happy with their site search.  Often this unhappiness is accompanied by questions of how a search can be improved, and then created to be more effective for website visitors. If this sounds familiar, read on. In this blog we will outline some of the key considerations for exploring options to improve your website’s search.

Get Federated – Let your Searchers Look In All the Right Places

Many search solutions only allow textual content  to be identified via web crawler. This approach might omit important content, maybe even some easy to include. For instance, data that resides in your AMS- such as your membership directory, or your course listings, or product catalog – should these be included in search results?  We think so!  Content from micro-sites, such as your annual meeting site, or chapter sites?  Those should also be included if important to users.  Content hosted on outboard locations, such as your journal or your LMS, may also be missing.   Event listings and/or job postings?  We believe they are all worthy of consideration.  And finally, if the search crawler is focused only on textual content, it probably isn’t doing a good job of helping users find image and video content.  We think such a search application is greatly lacking.

The fix is federation.  We have seen requirements for federated search solutions often over the past several years, and it makes sense.  A federated search is able to combine content from multiple data sources into a single repository, or search index, so that users can search across all of the included content in a single search instance.  Federation should be high on your wish for your next generation search.

Your Search needs to be Tuned

Yes, it is likely your current search solution can be managed to work better than it does.  In particular, the search can probably be tuned to provide results that are more relevant to your users. Too often the out of the box search function for a CMS platform is just “turned on” with no effort made to optimize. 

The tuning process should start with an effort to identify common search phrases and an evaluation of how well these search phrases are handled by the search engine.  If the engine isn’t responding with the content expected AND in the priority desired, your tech team may be able to help, possibly just by configuring the solution provided.

If you are about to embark on the implementation of a new web platform, be sure time is allotted for tuning the search engine.

Search Results – Form Is Just as Important As Function

In some cases, the search engine does produce relevant results, but the presentation of those results is of little help, because searchers cannot interpret the results easily. The fix may be to improve the search results template (the presentation).  Here are some examples of how to do so:

  • Structure content so it can be tagged and related in the back end, mostly so filters can be applied strategically to the results.
  • Assure your search results template is integrated to accept user authentications.  This is so logged in users can get tailored results tied to their user account.
  • Include a thumbnail image, especially if the result is for an image gallery or video.
  • If the result is for an event, include the event date, perhaps within a snappy calendar icon.
  • For some kinds of content, including the publication date in the search result can be useful.
  • For users (staff individuals or members/organizations), consider pushing the phone number, email, and office location in the result.

The information chosen to display in the search results should probably be different for each different type of content.  And to be clear:  we are not suggesting you have multiple search engines for different types of content, but rather, that a single search engine instance can include multiple kinds of content and dynamically adjust the information displayed with each result.

Consider An Outboard Engine – You May Need the Performance

If you are currently living with the default search function provided by your CMS, and you aren’t pleased with the results, you may want to consider 3rd party search solutions. The benefits to a 3rd party solution can be broadly split into two categories: richer features, and better performance.

  • Features:  Improvements might include the capability to better address the points mentioned above. Additionally, outboard search solutions are designed to be more flexible and customizable.  So, while it may be possible to achieve a greatly improved search solution by customizing your CMS, it may be easier to accomplish with a 3rd party platform. Also, 3rd party search solutions can provide consulting and implementation services to help assure success.
  • Performance:  Gains possible with a 3rd party solution can include improvements both for the actual keyword search, as well as the bandwidth required indexing the content.  That is, If you steal capacity from the server for an intensive operation like the indexing function, the rest of the site might suffer.  Regarding the latter, it is sometimes the case that the standard search engine indexes the site content using the same web server resources (CPU) that are responsible for serving site pages.
About BlueBolt, Nimblepalooza 2015 Sponsor: BlueBolt is a full service web development agency, providing project definition / user experience and content management system implementations to associations. Areas of expertise include Enterprise Site Search and advanced AMS integration. Visit www.blueboltsolutions.com to learn more.