Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Case Study - Applied Biosystems - Enabling Website Search


In the "Case Studies" series of my posts, I describe the projects that I worked on and lessons learned from them. In this post, I am going to describe the project of enabling website search in Applied Biosystems.

Applied Biosystems website included the search of the company products. There was a search field where a user would enter keywords hoping to retrieve the company products. However, this was not the case. Entering keywords in the search field was not retrieving any results.

My question for the company's webmaster was: what data source feeds this web site? I was told that there was a Lotus Notes database which contained products information and which fed the website and enables search. I asked to take a look at this database. When I looked at this database, I noticed a couple of metadata fields that were not populated: keywords and related terms.

I told the webmaster that this was the reason why company products were not retrievable on the website. This did not sound credible so I set out to prove it. I populated these two metadata fields in dozen of records and asked the webmaster to re-set the crawler. After this was done, those dozen products were retrievable from the company website. As the result, my diagnosis and solution proved to be correct.

I created a controlled vocabulary of terms and related terms with which records in this database should be indexed, i.e. entered into the keywords and related terms field. I also created a customized taxonomy to categorize company products on the web site and make them browsable through this database. I indexed all records in this database with terms from my controlled vocabulary. And so browsing and search of company products were enabled.

Lessons Learned
  • Never underestimate the value of metadata. It is absolutely invaluable in enabling search.
  • Metadata values should be consistent. If you decide to call a portable computer "laptop", you must continue to use this term in all your records. In order to maintain the consistency, create controlled vocabulary.
  • Use related terms in enabling search.
  • Provide two access points to any system: one is search, another is browse. When a user knows exactly what they are looking for, they are going to use the search. If they don't know what they are looking for, they are going to browse. Some time during browsing, they may switch to search and then back to browsing.
  • Search is iterative and interactive process. Provide means for it to be such.

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