Fixing intranet search

If you want to have a good intranet the intranet team has to take care of Search. Yes, I know, in many organizations today very few use intranet search compared to navigating—but this is only because every employee think Search stinks due to previously bad experiences. Make it work well—and in the end I think you will have way over 50% finding intranet content through Search. 

Every intranet should have a search box that is globally present on the intranet and finds answers for the end users.

Masthead
Future masthead (work in progress). A search box, visible on every intranet page, for searching people and content on the intranet.

But Search is a part that mostly runs under the hood. Therefore most of the hard work will not be obvious for the end users or the stakeholders. “We already have the search box in the masthead. Is it really necessary for someone to invest one day for SEO-tasks every week?” the intranet steering committee might say.

Yes, it is. Below is our explanation of what tasks we need to do in order to fix search. It also shows how a good search experience is dependant on several other adjustments on the intranet.

sokfix

1. The right search engine. Of course you need to use a good search engine. It can be a mature stand-alone product or a component in the WCMS. Most solutions on the market today are adequate. But nothing will run well without maintanance. Therefore a…

2. Manned SEO specialist role is vital. Someone in the intranet team has to have Search as the prime responsibility and a mind fine-tuned for a symbiotic life with the search engine. The SEO specialist does not have to be a full-time role, but I think every intranet team should allocate someone at least 2–8 hours every week, if possible. (Tip: this is a role that can/should be shared with the team for the external web site.) Several of the following tasks are dependent on a SEO specialist.

3. New, well-written content on the intranet. The search engine must have the right content to index. Pages should be written in the right way, with clear, informative H1 headings, the right preambles and great copy on the page. Bad pages tend to fare badly in search queries (and doesn’t help the end users). Start with rewriting the most used pages. But beware, sometimes you realize everything needs to be rewritten. (A work done in close cooperation with the intranet head editor.)

4. ONE place for an answer. A good intranet has information about the employee performance appraisal process in ONE place, even if the organization has several different answers for different subsidiaries/divisions. If an employee shouldn’t see every deviation, solve this through personalization, not though a lot of local pages in different places in the structure. Also, consider stop indexing word files. Before Christmas, on our old intranet, the employee performance appraisal process gave 335 hits (!) from all over the structure. In other words, it was impossible for the search engine to deliver the right top answer. Today word files are removed from the index and we have 105 hits. On our new intranet the goal is to review and merge all 105 pages into ONE or a few pages residing in ONE place in the intranet structure.

5. Metadata on pages. Use the abnormal deviant but great mind of the SEO specialist to build a system for all the metadata the search engine needs on every page. This is probably a combination of free keywords from the page producer, selected keywords from a core index keyword list, synonyms and a few central tricks for getting the right pages at the top positions.

6. Search statistics. What do people search for? Which answers do they choose? How many fail to get an answer? Which queries get bad answers? Invaluable facts for the SEO specialist when working with optimization and enhancement of the search experience. (A work done in close cooperation with the Web Analytics specialist your intranet team also should have.)

7. Editor’s choice/best bets. The Top-200 search queries must have the right answers in the top one position—a constant maintenance mission for the SEO specialist.

8. “It’s just like Google search”. The end users are most used to Google. Therefore the Search UX should work in the same way—write one word, press enter, you get a list, the first answer is probably the best answer, no need to filter for the end user.

* * *

So, does the intranet team need a SEO specialist and 2–8 hours every week for SEO? Definitely yes!

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