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Fear and Loathing in Search IT

Don’t let bad onsite search catch you by surprise – fix it now.

The biggest challenge in corporate IT is managing the never-ending list of equally important priorities. This requires what I’ve always referred to as “ruthless prioritization”; yes there are a lot of important things to do but you can only work on the most critical. More often than not, important stuff like site search gets left behind.

So what do you do when that important stuff all of a sudden becomes critical? You sweat and you work the problem. It’s easier if you have the right data.

Bad Days

My worst days in corporate IT were those when someone way up my org chart got an email or a phone call complaint from a customer, usually a big customer. The script for these problems was similar:

  1. An executive at a client tried to do something with our technology. Lacking any context, experience or product education the client failed to achieve her goal,
  2. Frustrated, she sent a note to one of our senior execs about how awful the user experience or function was for her,
  3. Like all bad things, these notes ran downhill pretty quickly into my inbox,
  4. I had to do something fast.

Often the “problem” was really a lack of info about how the application worked or a misunderstanding about how it fit in the client’s workflow. Rapid communication followed by targeted education usually fixed the situation. The worst of all scenarios, of course, was when we were confronted with the dreaded ‘known known,’ when , the thing identified was something we knew about and had placed on the backburner.

Known Knowns

Known problems are common in IT. There is always a feature and function backlog to be worked and it’s usually prioritized by those closest to the customer to ensure we’re focused on real value drivers. It’s not a perfect system but it works way more than it doesn’t. But there are many functions that don’t fare well in this screen despite their visibility and importance to customers.

When I talk to clients, I often hear that they know about their problems in site search. They’re like 85% of companies in an eConsultancy study who don’t have anyone dedicated to their site’s search function. There’s nobody making sure that the customer experience works. It’s a huge blindspot that matters. Let me give you an example.

Google announced last year that their Site Search product was going away. It was being replaced by an ad supported model. Someone at a mid-tier New York-based insurance company missed the memo. Even those folks in IT who are supposed to be paying attention to the industry missed the link between what was happening on their website and the well-publicized change by Google. The result? All the search results above the fold on their website’s search results page were ads for their competitors. This went on for months. That’s a level of apathy that borders on negligence.

Inform yourself.  Manage the Risk.

One of the biggest challenges to improving site search is understanding the problem. Good data is hard to come by. Most web analytics packages don’t measure search very well and those that try to force fit marketing measures into the search dashboard. These measures fail to measure what’s really important: A searcher’s success at finding what they were looking for.

Gathering data starts with understanding the business value of the problem. One of SoloSegment’s clients, a Fortune 100 tech company, did the math and found that improving their site search would unlock $9M of revenue trapped in dead-end buyer’s journeys. When they did the math on support queries, they found the numbers even more compelling. An expense problem, not enough money for search, turned into a value creating opportunity.

Operational measures of search success are the next step. You need to know what searchers are looking for, whether they’re seeing good results for those queries and if they find something that truly answers the question. And when search fails, you need to be able to measure your improvement along each of these elements.

It’s Coming

You’re going to get an email on search. It won’t be today. Maybe not tomorrow. But you’re going to get that note because you have no idea just how bad your site search is or what you should be doing to fix it. This is one of those known problems that you can get ahead of. Build the business case. Get the right operational data. Dodge the email by being ahead of the problem. Especially because you know you have this problem.

Got two minutes? Check out how SearchBox helps improve site search success.

Author

  • Madeline Moran

    Madeline is the Marketing Assistant for SoloSegment, a company using machine learning and natural language processing to improve engagement and conversion for large enterprise, B2B companies. Madeline worked previously at Mike Moran Group and has a bachelor's degree in philosophy.