So, you got your enterprise search engine, but still can’t find what you’re looking for? It’s time to stop your sobbing and learn to play the exciting game of Enterprise Search Optimization (ESO).
Enterprise search differs from web search in some fundamental ways. But there are also similarities. Since we all know how successful web search is, let’s see if there is something to learn by examining the differences.
|Web search||Enterprise search|
|Search Engine||Google, Bing, Baidu…||SharePoint, Elasticsearch, Solr, Virtualworks, Autonomy, GSA…|
|Sources||Web pages, web applications (++)||databases, file shares, intranet, web pages, email, SAP, CRM…|
|Control of search engine||web search company||tech department, power users|
|Control of content||user||user|
The most striking similarity is that both solutions involve content produced by a user.
The main differences are the search engine and who controls it, the different types of content sources, and the use of the pagerank algorithm.
Web content and web search
What makes web search so successful? Web search was revolutionized when Google introduced their web search using the pagerank algorithm. Pagerank uses the natural structure of the world wide web, and assigns high weight to pages with many incoming links. It rests on the assumption that pages with correct and important information will be used as references on other pages. Along with pagerank, there is a large number of other factors used to drive relevancy; content quality, keywords, social media sharing etc. Most of the details are not publicly available.
Content publishers on the world wide web can use the tricks of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to make sure their content gets optimal visibility on the web. SEO is the art of combining knowledge of two things;
- how web search engines work
- what search terms people use.
Both of these areas involve a lot of guessing. Some information can be found in guides such as the Google Webmaster Guidelines, which explains what a webmaster can do to make sure her web sites are properly indexed. Parts of this read almost like an instruction on how to create a nice school paper: “Create a useful, information-rich site, and write pages that clearly and accurately describe your content.”
By following these guidelines, you are helping web search engines understand your content.
Enterprise content and enterprise search
Enterprise search is a different story. Content is gathered from different sources, with varying degrees of structure, and mostly without links that could be used for pagerank.
Content publishers in an enterprise search solution are on their own, with no official guidelines describing the rules to follow to win top ranking on the intranet search. More often than not, nobody knows how the enterprise search engine really works. Compare this to the web search situation, and it should not come as a surprise if enterprise search sucks.
A solution to this dilemma requires taking a step back from the idea that enterprise search is a box that you can plug in to your intranet and “there was search”.
Search tech guys often pride themselves in the abilities of their search engines, and will rather fix relevancy problems created by bad content by doing tricks on the technical side of things. On the other side of the story, content producers expect search to “just work”, and put all the responsibility on technology and the implementer.
Creating a great enterprise search solution requires cooperation between the makers of content and the makers of search solutions.
Content producers should know how their content will end up in search. They should know what factors affect findability. Search solutions should have documentation targeted towards the end user, which in the enterprise also might be a content producer.
We can define Enterprise Search Optimization (ESO) as the art of improving Enterprise Search. Where ESO has been applied, we should expect to find a well functioning search solution, where employees and content producers know how to create easily findable content.
Compared to SEO, Enterprise search optimization is a simple procedure, involving little guesswork in regard to figuring out how the search engine works. It is also a difficult procedure, since ESO needs to be individually tailored and optimized for the specific informational needs for each enterprise. To develop ESO guidelines, the search technicians need to sit down with the content producers and users to figure out the details of the information model and where the pain of missing information hurts the most.
ESO should result in a list of guidelines, or rules, similar to the lists of SEO. These rules can range from simple and obvious, making sure documents have descriptive titles, correct dates and author, to more complex involving consistent language use, metadata fields for categorization, etc. ESO rules should also explain how structure is imposed on data with less structure.
Recognizing authoritative content is solved in web search engines by using the pagerank algorithm. Enterprise search will rarely be able to use pagerank directly. Authority can often be determined by other means. This can range from simple facts like “This book is the company procedure bible” to “powerpoint is more important than word”.
Optimizing enterprise search
Enterprise search can suck a little less by applying a customized version of SEO.