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The Search Facelift

, Friday, September 18th, 2009

Sometimes a client needs a change.  When you’re talking about websites, that change can be the whole enchilada: a new (or first time!) content management system, a comprehensive content audit with audience matrices and  IA work, a big build with tons of new functionality.  Or it might just be a creative design refresh with some minor tweaks and enhancements,  resulting in the appearance of a major revision at a lower cost and quicker implementation — the website facelift.

A website’s search can be similar.  Many clients we talk to are convinced that their site search doesn’t work and needs to be torn out — and sometimes that’s true.   We can gut the whole works, put in a new Google Mini or MS Search Server, spend hours dividing your site into collections, setting up separate searches based on audiences or site sections, but that’s not always necessary.  As a counterpart to the website facelift, the site search facelift seeks the same result: more for less.  How? By applying lessons from your search metrics, particularly what the top search terms of people seeking information at your site are and then making specific corrections to content.

While a site search facelift has several techniques to improve results, one of the easiest steps you can take to improve search results is to review frequent search terms and provide recommended links through your search engine for those terms.  The term used is dependent on the search engine, but is commonly referred to as “best bets” or “suggested results”.

Perhaps your search engine doesn’t make those frequently searched for terms reports available? Don’t have that data in the first place? Don’t be so sure – if you’re using Google analytics, most of the time that information is available to you irrespective of your search engine technology.

The best thing about this method is that it generally follows the 80/20 rule where 80% of your searches are coming from 20% of the search terms people use.  Start with the terms most frequently searched form and you are automatically handling the search results in the order that will gain the most benefit from clear, recommended content suggestions.  And while there’s a lot more to a full search facelift, this is a quick way to get some significant results.

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