We’re often asked to review how our clients use search technology, both open and closed source (although we specialise in the former, we’ve also encountered most of the commercial search engines over the last 16 years). One common mistake is to assume that search is purely a technical problem, and that all issues can be resolved by writing software and changing configurations, or worse by throwing away the old engine and replacing it with a new one at huge expense.
As Martin White writes, search should be regarded as a ‘wicked problem’ – multi-dimensional and hard to resolve using traditional methods. So when we carry out a ‘search audit’, as we recently did for global charity Oxfam, we will consider both technical and non-technical factors – not just the software your organisation is using with its potential flaws and misconfigurations, but how it is being used and by whom.
We’ll consider how content is created for the search engine to index – who controls this process, how shortcuts might be taken or mistakes made, who manages the content quality. We’ll check how you are managing the search and associated software – is version control used correctly, are your team sufficiently trained and supported. We’ll look at your future plans and strategy and consider how these might be helped or hampered by what has gone before – the drag effect of legacy systems and content. We’ll consider the needs of your users, both internal and external, and how you test and maintain the quality of your search results. The human factors are as important as the technical details.
This process involves using our years of experience to ask the right questions – to discover how you represent your organisation in data – and how that data flows, under whose control. The output of the process is a detailed report listing what we discovered, what immediate improvements we can suggest and what we regard as more long-term recommendations. Even if we don’t find a lot wrong it will be reassuring to know you’re on the right path to a great search experience for your users. If we do discover major flaws, we hope to save you a great deal of trouble and expense.
If you’re interested in a search audit do ask us for more details.