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How to Have a Really Great Search on Your Website

We hear this a lot from people who manage websites and navigate websites, “the site search sucks!” So what can you do to make search not suck on your site?

Here at Matrix Group, we believe a good site search is the result of many things:

  • Good search technology. There are many products on the market, from the free Google custom search, to the very pricey Google Search Appliance, to commercial products like SearchBlox and open source products like Solr and Lucene. Your vendor can help you navigate the products and find one that is right for you. We like SearchBlox and here’s my Director of Software Engineering on the many reasons why we prefer to implement SearchBlox these days.
  • Effective site search setup. I’m working with a client on a search project and here are just some of her organization’s requirements: she needs her search to index multiple websites, allow filtering of the results by category and source website, index members-only content, support featured results, and allow some content collections to be prioritized over others. A good search solution supports all of these requirements and more. A good search partner helps you develop effective requirements and can implement the solution properly.
  • Good, deep content. Our association and nonprofit clients rarely lack good content, but it is important to take stock of your content, archive what’s outdated or redundant, and keep only the best online. I ask clients to meet as an organization and come up with the topics that they want to be known for on the web, and then audit their content to see if they have ample content on that topic. For example, if I ran Worldchefs and I wanted my site to be known on the web as the place to go if you want to be a culinary chef, I would make sure we have the following types of content:
    • How to be a chef
    • The training you need to become a chef
    • How it takes to become a chef
    • Training for chefs
    • The qualities of a great chef
    • Are great chefs born or made?
    • Etc.
  • Good content preparation. It’s not enough to have good content. Your content has to be optimized for search. Here are some example of best practices: descriptive and unique title tags and H1 headlines on all pages, properties populated in PDF documents, all content available to be crawled, and categories populated and displayed on the page and in metadata.
  • A good understanding of what good search results look like. Sometimes, clients tell me their search sucks. So I ask them to give me examples of 20 searches that people conduct on their site and what great search results look like. If they can’t tell me, we work together to define it. Only then can we refine the search technology, weight the content, and customize the results for the best results.
  • Search analytics. How will you know that your site search is working (or not working?) if you don’t have good analytics? Did you even know that you can have search analytics? Here are some examples: you can track the volume of searches, the search terms being entered, the number of results, and so much more. If you have analytics, be sure to look regularly at what people are searching for and then conduct those searches yourself. Are the results what you expect and want visitors to see?

My biggest concern with site search is that people complain a lot about it but organizations are rarely willing to invest the time and money to have a really great search. Search is undervalued in that way. I hope that with this post, more organizations understand what goes into having a really great search.

 

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