Issue 2 – Missing content & data structures
- Digital services
- Information management
The ultimate guide – how to solve 4 most common issues with site search
The site search seems to be an area in digital development which is hard to crack for the most companies. In this blog post series Tuija Riekkinen and Hans Ahlborg capture the most common issues and remedies to ensure a better performance of the most neglected sales booster of your website.
Like the collaborative writing process of this blog post series proves it, the key for tackling challenges with the site search, requires collaboration and dialogue between different digital competences – a multi-discipline team.
Issue 1 – Site search is not promoted – Design conventions and other reasons
Issue 2 – Missing content & data structures prevent engines to do their job
Issue 3 – Search results are not relevant – to anyone
Issue 4 – Too many results and no possibilities to refine search results
When the engine simply cannot do its job
Your website is getting negative feedback. The site search is performing badly. But when you look at the pages, all the information seems to be there, so you don’t know how to start fixing the situation.
The problem most likely is that the way humans perceive information differs from how the engine perceives it. For a human, a page seems to be valid totality of information but for an engine, not necessarily. For example, you, as a human, can interpret from an image that sofa is designed for three persons, but for the engine this piece of information needs to be stated in more explicit way.
How to solve this?
Computers read information in a different fashion than humans and therefore you need to structure the information in a machine-readable way.
For the search engine to be able to understand and link the information properly it needs a proper schema and description of information (especially important when you work with dynamic content and databases).
Taxonomy, ontology, folksonomy & metadata
Taxonomy is a map that shows the system how everything fits together, what information links to other information and how it should be interpreted. Taxonomy is easiest described as a tree hierarchy of info like Life-human-breathing or Animal-canine-dog.
Another term commonly used is ontology which is a taxonomy on a larger scale. If taxonomy is a tree, the ontology is the forest that binds all the information from different trees.
Folksonomy is the people’s taxonomy. It is based on how the users define and tag words or sentences they use.
For example, if you as a company use the word “lounge group” for a set of sofas, chairs and tables people might call it “living room group” and might as well search for that instead of lounge group. If there is no folksonomy (usually managed in synonyms by the search editor) the search might be returned with zero hits.
Metadata (information about information) is one of the key pillars for all content that a search engine will use. If you are not meticulous with describing your content with proper meta data tagging, it will hurt the search experience very much.
Example on this is you sell a chair on your e-commerce site with an image and a description of the product is plain text.
The image itself needs descriptive text for the machine to know what it is in it, chair, color, dining room, name, size etc.
The information in the page with the chair needs additional metadata to describe what product family or brand it belongs to, what product category, colors, sizes, availability, packaging, safety i.e. general product information.
With the help of taxonomy, folksonomy/synonyms and properly filled-in meta-data, the machine will work out how to index, link and group information (kitchen-table-chair) and is able provide the results to the user in a structured and expected way.
Information architecture and information management are key activities and you can never bypass them in any search engine set-up.
So, when forming your multi-discipline task force, ensure that you have people representing competences from information management. Remember, when you will get your data right, not only the search will start performing better but you will be able to utilise it for other purposes on the website as well (product recommendations and comparisons for instance).
And by the way, using uncommon jargon and terminology, not having proper schema for the information and being careless with metadata will also hurt your visibility in the external search engines.
So, in case your site’s SEO is handled in a different team, now might be a good opportunity to collaborate with them.
- If you want the search engine and the users to find the what they are looking properly, you need to ensure that all information is filled in, the meta data is correct, and your taxonomy and folksonomy are up-to-date.