A suggested approach to running a Site Search Tuning Workshop

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 talked about getting started on improving site search relevancy, including the idea of running a two-day initial workshop. In this blog I cover more detail around what the workshop looks like in terms of structure.

Your reason for improving on site search could be driven by migration to a new platform or a need to improve ‘business as usual’ performance. As such, the exact structure should be tailored to you. It’s also worth remembering that whilst the workshop is the starting point, to get the most from it you will need to spend time in advance to gather all the relevant information you’ll need.

Workshop Overview

Objectives : Spend 30 mins at the start of the day to ensure that that the objectives (for workshop and overall project) are communicated and agreed across the entire project team.

Review the current search set up

It might seem wasteful to spend time reviewing your current set up – especially if you are moving to a new search platform – but ensuring everyone understands what and why you have the set up you have today is essential when designing future state.

It’s useful to break this session further into a Technical Set Up and Business Process. This helps to uncover if there are:

  • Particular search cases that you have developed workarounds for and which you need to protect revenue for – your intent will be to remove these workarounds but do you need to be aware they exist
  • Changes to your content model or content systems that you need to take into consideration
  • Technical constraints that you had in the past that are now gone

Ensuring a common level of understanding helps as the project moves forward.

Review current performance

Ensuring that the team knows how search queries are currently performing again increases buy in and engagement and provides a benchmark against which changes can be measured.

Your metrics will be dependent upon your business and what you currently measure (if you aren’t measuring anything – this would also be a good time to plan out what you should).

Classifying the types of search queries your customers are using is also important: do customers search predominately for single keywords, lengthy descriptors or part numbers? Whilst getting to this level of detail involves manual processes it not only provide a real insight into how your customers formulate queries but helps to avoid the ‘see-saw’ impact of focusing on fixes for some whilst unknowingly breaking others further down the tail.

Develop a search testing methodology

With the information to hand around current search set up and performance, now comes the fun part – figuring out the configuration set ups and tests you want to include as part of that new set up.

If you are migrating to a new platform, new approaches are possible, but if you’re working with existing technology there are opportunities to review and test current assumptions.

Search tuning is an iterative process: impacts of configuration changes are only understood once you start testing and determine if the results are as you expected, so build this into the plan from the start.

Dependent upon timescales and objectives you might chose to make wholescale changes immediately or you might decide to make a series of small changes to be able to test and measure each of them independently. Whichever option is best for you, measuring and tracking changes to your search relevancy scores are critical, tools such as Quepid make this possible (it’s also a great tool for building those collaborative working practices which are so important).

Whilst the focus is around improving search relevancy, excellent search experiences are achieved as a result of the holistic user experience, so remember to consider your UX strategy alongside your search relevancy strategy.

Making plans

Alongside clearly defined objectives you should aim to end the workshop with clearly defined action plans. The level of detail you capture and maintain again depends on your needs but as a minimum you should have mapped out:

  • Initial Configuration Tests
  • Test Search Queries
  • Test Team
  • Ongoing project management (Stand Ups / Project Reviews)

In my next blog I’ll write in more detail about how to audit your current and future search performance.

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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