As SEOs, we focus on external customers: Getting more people outside an organization to sign up, buy, read, follow and otherwise participate. We don’t invest a lot of effort at helping internal customers: Colleagues at our own company who need help finding critical information, but end up grinding their teeth after 10 minutes lost in the company’s ‘search’ tool.
It’s time for a career tune-up, everybody. As an SEO, you have a lot to offer in the field of enterprise search. Here’s how you can help, and how you can capitalize on internal needs.
- A crawler/spider, just like the search engines we’re all used to;
- A direct connection to a source control or document management system;
- A host of other Rube Goldberg contraptions I won’t even try to describe.
If your company’s search tool uses a crawler, a useful system requires content visibility. You probably know a thing or two about that, right?
If it uses a direct connection, the biggest issue is content preparation. See the next section.
If your company uses some bizarre technology originally coded on punch cards and later updated using a combination of Fortran and COBOL, it might be time to consider something less… steam-powered. If that’s the case, you can offer a lot regarding current tools and algorithms, and help evaluate replacements.
Most internal search tools rely on a mix of metadata and raw text indexing. That means everyone providing content to the tool must follow best practices. Otherwise, the search engine can’t accurately index and rank what it finds.
Someone has to go out and teach those best practices: How to write a good document title, a decent summary, and otherwise prep content for indexing.
That’s one more place you can help. A lot. In 20+ years’ work on various intranets, document libraries and filing systems, I’ve seen, oh, let’s say zero organizations that teach that kind of content prep.
Testing & Analytics
Every enterprise search tool includes reporting. You can use this reporting to see which documents get found most often for what queries. You can also use it to test different search results layouts, delivery methods and tweaks to indexing.
The older your internal search tool, the more likely it is that everyone at your company has forgotten where this data lives. Prepare to do a little research. But there won’t be many people better qualified than you to review this search data and draw conclusions about search quality.
Check out query reports and learn what folks in your company most want to find. Find the content that’d best answer their questions. Then, if they queries and the results don’t match (they probably won’t) figure out how to get your search tools in sync.
Getting Started: Don’t Be A Jerk
Some large enterprises have entire teams of information scientists working on internal search tools. Many more buy a search appliance, plug it in, and then promptly forget about it.
Don’t assume one or the other—ask nicely, first. Remember how you feel when a client brings in another SEO who treats you like an idiot? Remember how much you didn’t want to cooperate with them?
You want to avoid that response with the current internal search team. Especially since they’ve been doing this a lot longer than you have, and likely know a lot more than you do about search.
Talk to your boss, first. Start with a small idea—something where you can help improve internal search, just a little. If that goes well, you can do more, later. Don’t be pushy.
I just advised you “Don’t be pushy”. Me. The guy once labeled ‘Most likely to start a fist fight in a meditation session.’ Both my cats just snickered at me. So as always, take my advice with a grain of salt.
Prepare For Much Venting
My company is all of 35 people. We’re not an enterprise. But if I ask each person, I’ll get 35 reasons why our internal search tools suck. If and when you start researching current internal search problems, you’ll hear a lot about what stinks, and not much about what works.
Listen and record, but don’t necessarily throw out the current system. No one ever thinks an enterprise search system is good—at best, you can hope they hate it only mildly.
Huh, that sounds a lot like being an SEO. See? You’re more qualified than you think!
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.