Saturday, December 29, 2012

10 Signs Your Search Engine is Stalling

An integral part of your content management strategy is enterprise search. Your users need to be able to find information and documents they are looking for. However, enterprise search does not always work properly. Users have to get more creative to compensate for the lack of good search but is this what you really want?

Creative ways which users use to find information is a sign that your search engine is stalling. If you recognize any of these symptoms below in your content management system, take it as a call to action: your search engine needs a tune-up!

1. Querying With Magic Cookies: If your users are memorizing document IDs or using some other "magic" unrelated to natural search queries to find content, your search has a problem.

2. Off-Roading to Google: If your users are proudly (or surreptitiously) resorting to Google to get answers, take a hard look at your search tools. Google is good. But if your search engine can't outperform a generic Web search engine, given it has a much tighter domain of content and context and can be tuned to your goals -you can do better.

3. Gaming Learning: Today's search engines are "smart". No doubt-click-stream feedback is a powerful tool for improving search relevance. But, if users are expending time repeatedly running the same search and clicking on the "right" document to force it to the top of the results list, your search engine isn't learning, it has a learning disability. Search engines should not have to be gamed.

4. Using Cliff Notes: If users use everything from note cards to the back of their hands to scribble titles and key phrases for frequently utilized content, if your users have taken to cliff-noting content to prime their searches, the search engine is not working.

5. Paper Chasing: Are your users printing out content, littering their cubes with hard copies? That is just another form of cliff-noting. Using functioning search is easier than a paper chase, not to mention more reliable.

6. Doing the Link Tango: Badly tuned search engines tend to "fixate" on certain content, especially content with lots of links to other content. Smart users often take advantage of this tendency to click through on anchor articles and then ricochet through the link structure to find the actual content they need. If your users are doing the "link tango" for information, you know that your users are great, but your search does not work.

7. Lots of "Game Over" Search Sessions: When search strings bring back large amount of content that is not earning click-through (document views), your users are having the "game over" experience. Unable to identify what is relevant in this sea of material, they are forced to cheat to stay in the game. Smart search engines provide navigation, faceted guidance or clarifying questions to prevent "game over" interactions.

8. Dumbing it Down: Your users are verbally adept, and they would love to ask questions "naturally". If your analytics are telling you that most users' searches have disintegrated into 1-2 word queries, take it as a direct reflection of your search engine's lack of intelligence. A search engine competent in natural language typically receives 20% of queries in seven words or more and about half in three, with fewer than 20% as 1-2 word queries.

9. Easter Eggs: If your users tell you they often find interesting new content by stumbling upon it, your search engine is delivering "Easter Eggs." Finding good content by accident, especially good content, signals a poorly tuned search engine. New content is usually highly relevant content and ought to be preferred by smart retrieval algorithms.

10. Taxi Driver Syndrome: Taxi drivers will tell you that they don't want a map, that they don't need a map because they memorized the map. Unlike a city topography, a knowledge base changes frequently. So, if your users are saying they don't want or need search, it's not because they have memorized all your content. What they are realy saying is: we don't need search that doesn't work.

If your users have to get more and more creative to get the job done, thank them. And then reward them and your business by tuning or upgrading your search engine. It will pay off in efficiency, customer satisfaction, and employees and customers retention.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Website Usability

Web usability is an approach to make a web site easy to use for a user, without the requirement that any specialized training is undertaken or any special manual is read. Users should be able to intuitively determine the actions they need or can perform on the web page s, e.g., press a button to perform some action.

Some broad goals of usability could be: present the information to the user in a clear and concise way, give the correct choices to the users in an obvious way, remove any ambiguity regarding the consequences of an action (e.g. clicking on delete/remove/purchase), place important items in an appropriate area on a web page or a web application.

When you designed your web site, you want to promote it everywhere with big bold letters saying, "Hello everybody! Come and look at my web site! It is just great!" When you submit your web site to forums for web site reviews, you may write, "What do you think of my web site?"

This is the big mistake to ask someone to look at your web site. There is never a single answer. To understand if your web site meets its usability requirements, ask people to try it out. They should be able to answer the following questions: what is the purpose of this web site? what can I do here? what needs does it fulfill?

The 5 seconds test tool is one way to explore immediate impressions of the web site users. You can experiment by asking them what the site is about, to see if the site’s purpose is communicated clearly.

The biggest mistake is to believe that web site appearance matters the most. How it looks is only one part of the process. How it performs is another. What it can give back to site visitors and how effectively it conveys that information will matter even more.

Writing content for web users is an important task. The main goal of this task is the ease with which the web site content is read and understood by your users. When your content is highly readable, your audience is able to quickly digest the information you share with them.

Keep the web site content as concise as possible. Users have very short attention spans and they are not going to read articles thoroughly and in their entirety. So, get to the point as quickly as possible. Place your most important content high on the page. Think of a newspaper: the top story is always prominently displayed above the fold. Use headings to break up long text. Use bulleted lists where possible.

Format the text in such a way that it is easy to read it and just to scan a web page.Keep colors and typefaces consistent. Visitors should never click on an internal link in your site and wonder if they've left your web site. Choose your colors and fonts carefully and use them consistently throughout the site.

Keep page layout consistent. Use a Web site template to enforce a uniform page structure. Visitors should be able to predict the location of important page elements after visiting just one page in your site.

Design a clear and simple navigation system. a good navigation system should answer three questions: Where am I? Where have I been? Where can I go?

The navigation system should be in the same place on every page and have the same format. Visitors will get confused and frustrated if links appear and disappear unpredictably. Don't make your visitors guess where a link is going to take them. Visitors should be able to anticipate a link's destination by reading the text in the link or on the navigation button. Users don't have time or patience to guess.

Large or complex sites should always have a text-based site map in addition to text links. Every page should contain a text link to the site map. Lost visitors will use it to find their way, while search engines spiders will have reliable access to all your pages.

Include a home page link inside your main navigation system. Visitors may enter your site via an internal page, but hopefully they will want to head for the home page. Link the site logo to the home page. Most sites include their logo somewhere at the top of every page - generally in the top, left-hand corner. Visitors expect this logo to be a link to your site's home page. They'll often go there before looking for the home link in the navigation system.

Include a site search box. A robust site search feature helps visitors quickly locate the information they want. Make the search box prominent and be sure that it searches all of your site, and only your site.

Check your page display at in a number of different screen resolutions to make sure that your most important content is visible when the page loads.

Include a form for users' feedback on your site.

A good brand creates or reinforces a user's impression of the site. When your site is strongly branded, that means that visitors will think of you first when they go shopping for your product or service.

Conduct usability testing. Usability testing helps you to replicate the experience of the average web site user and correct problems before real users find them.