Friday, February 8, 2008

What do users want from a search engine?

This post is going to be just a quick bulleted list of what I know my users want from a enterprise search engine, based on my study of our search logs, usability studies, profiles, recent research in the field, information retrevial studies and some conference presentations. If you have additional suggestions, please include them as comments.

  • A single search box, persistently placed on all pages. Wide enough to avoid typos.
  • Google - everyone knows google and wants internal search to be google. This doesn't mean the google appliance. This means quick, accurate and comprehensive search. Quick means sub 5 second response time. Accurate means the right document in the first 3 documents. Comprehensive means every possible document - regardless of which firm silo created it, regardless of which technology holds it, regardless of if "it" is a word document, a zip file, a email, a document on their hard drive or a documentum folder.
  • Some kind of advanced search, even though they will not use it.
  • An ability to narrow the search to specific areas of content that is contextual to them. Sometimes this is content types, like Policies, People, Sites. Other times this is my country, my service line, my language, my industry - taxonomy, but without having to call it taxonomy.
    For the tool to allow them to type in "How do I do an internal audit?" and bring back documents on audit methodology. This doesn't have to mean natural language queries. If you ignore the "How do I do an" and the "?" that query is "internal audit". The system has to ignore ? and "How do I do" to run correctly. But it does mean that there needs to be a relationship between internal audit and audit methodology.
  • People expect the system to find things using an - not a PHRASE and not a . People looking for Risk Management in Technology Companies in the UK type in Risk Management Technology UK. The tool needs to understand that behavior and correct for it.
  • People expect that the system will correct their spelling.
  • People expect that documents with some of the words they searched for in the title will be more relevant. That documents with some of the words in the summary will be more relevant. That the system will know that TAS and Transaction Advisory Services are the same exact thing, even though they are not to the computer. People expect that more recent documents will be relevant, except when they are looking for older documents - and they want the tool to know the difference.

    Those are some of the things that I know people want from search. What do you want from search?

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