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It’s not your search engine, it’s you(r improvement program)

Individuals shaking hands over a laptop and papers.

Back in April I wrote about the two things you can do to improve your site search. Those are two things among many options you have available to you as you seek to keep visitors on your website and help them achieve the task at hand. Of course, one thing you can consider is a search engine replacement. Better technology has an allure. However, it shouldn’t be the place you start.

Chasing better technology

The general disposable nature of contemporary technology — coupled with the lower switching costs enabled by SaaS business models — has made search engine replacement easier than ever. Many options are available from vendors both large and small. However, before you consider the technology, make sure you have a firm grasp of the meaningful features that you expect will drive your business results.

Most of the vendor solutions out there can be traced back to the same platform (something Lucene-based), generally have crawlers that are unimpressive, and have the same basic input — your content. So, will a new search engine really make your search results better? Maybe.

For example, we were working with a client who had lots of entitled content. Their search engine couldn’t index the restricted content. After working on many other facets of their search experience, when it came time to address the entitled content we needed to upgrade their search engine. Have you done the work to exhaust all other options?

Manage what you have

The journey to replacing the search engine should wind through your management system. The phrase “management system” often elicits groans from people in technology. A good site search management system, however, will ensure that you’ve gathered all the right stakeholders and worked on the exhaustive list of actions that will help your search users complete tasks.

A solid site search management system will include:

  • A diverse set of stakeholders – technical people, content owners, marketing, product owners
  • Clear measurements of success
  • Measured continuously and evaluated monthly
  • Actions and experiments that will be run, evaluated and promoted if they indicate a better searcher outcome.

More levers for improved site search

There are many more levers that should be implemented before you switch engines. Some examples include:

  • Implement success-based autosearch to steer users.
  • Add content currently missing from the index
  • Curate top 100 keywords
  • Add synonyms for poor performing keywords
  • Optimize content to use keywords searchers are using

So maybe you’ve exhausted these and many others and your improvement efforts have plateaued.

Replacing your search engine

If you’re on your third search engine in three years you need to slow down and reconsider your search improvement program (see above). But maybe you are stuck and it is the technology that’s holding you back. Maybe it is time to reconsider your technology stack.

I’m not going to review all the things you should consider in selecting a new search engine — your individual circumstances are going to dictate many of the features required — but I do encourage you to consider everything you’ve done to date. It feels good to embark on a new tech program but at the end of the day it’s not the tech that matters, it’s the customer experience. Make sure you’re focused on the right thing.

Steve Zakur

About Steve Zakur

Stephen Zakur is CEO of SoloSegment. SoloSegment provides analytics that improve site search conversion and machine learning technologies that improve content effectiveness.