Developing ongoing search tuning processes

A series of blogs by Karen Renshaw on improving site search:

  1. How to get started on improving Site Search Relevancy
  2. A suggested approach to running a Site Search Tuning Workshop
  3. Auditing your site search performance
  4. Developing ongoing search tuning processes
  5. Measuring search relevance scores


In my last blog I wrote about how to create an audit of your current site search performance. In this blog I cover how to develop search tuning processes.

Once started on your search tuning journey developing ongoing processes is a must. Search tuning is an iterative process and must be treated as such. In the same way that external search traffic – PPC and SEO – is continually reviewed and optimised, so must on site search be: otherwise you have invested a lot of time and money to get people to your site but then leave them wandering aimlessly in the aisles wondering if you have the product or information you so successfully advertised!

There are 2 key areas to focus on when developing search processes:

  1. Ongoing review of search performance
  2. Dedicated resource

1. Ongoing review of search performance

Develop a framework for measuring relevancy scores

It’s good practice to develop a benchmark as to how search queries are performing through creating a search relevancy framework. Simply put, this is a score assigned to each search result based on how well that result answers the original query.

You can customise the scoring system you use to score your search results. Whatever you choose the key is to ensure that your search analysts are consistent in their approach, the best way to achieve that is through providing documented guidelines.

Understanding how query scores change with different configurations is an integral part of search tuning process but you should also run regular reviews on how queries are performing. This way you’ll know the impact loading new documents and products into your site is having on overall relevancy and highlight changes you need to feed into your product backlog.

Process for manually optimising important or problematic queries

Even with a search tuning test and learn plan in place there will be some queries that don’t do as well as well as expected or for which a manual custom build response provides a better customer experience.

Whilst manually tuning a search can sometimes be viewed in a negative light – after all search should ‘just work’ – it shouldn’t be seen as such. Manually optimising important search queries means that you can provide a tailored response for your customer. The queries you optimise will be dependent on your metrics and what you deem as being a good or bad experience.

With manual optimisation you can should also build in continual reviews and take the opportunity to test different landing pages.

Competitive review

I’ve talked about this in a few of my other blogs but it is especially important for eCommerce sites to understand how your competitors are answering your customers’ queries. As you create a search relevancy framework for your site it’s easy to score the same queries on your competitors to draw out any comparisons and understand opportunities for improvements.

2. Dedicated Resource

Creating and maintaining the above reviews needs resource. Ideally you would have a staff member dedicated to reviewing search and responsible for updating product backlog configuration changes, working alongside developers to ensure changes are tested and deployed successfully.

If you don’t have a dedicated person responsible, the right skills will undoubtedly exist within your organisation. You will have teams who understand your product / information set, and within that team you will find a sub-set of individuals who have problem solving skills combined with a passion to improve the customer experience. Once you’ve found them, providing them with some light search knowledge will be enough to get you started.

Whether it’s a full-time role or part-time having someone focus on reviewing search queries should be part of your plan.

What’s next?

Now you have processes and a team in place it’s time to consider what to measure (and how). In my next blog I’ll cover how to measure search relevancy scores.

Karen Renshaw is an independent On Site Search consultant and an associate of Flax. Karen was previously Head of On Site Search at RS Components, the world’s largest electronic component distributor.

Flax can offer a range of consulting, training and support, provide tools for test-driven relevancy tuning and we also run Search Workshops. If you need advice or help please get in touch.

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