Recipe for a strategic search review

We’re sometimes asked by clients to examine not just their technical implementation of search, but also the wider picture: how search functionality is exposed to users, how it compares to competitors’ websites and best practice. This process usually takes us ten days to two weeks and results in a highly detailed report with clear recommendations for improvement.

This process is slightly different each time, but usually includes the following steps, shown with some examples of questions we might ask.

  • A review of any specifications created for the search function – these might include design documents, requirements lists and external references. Were these documents complete and well-constructed? Did they take into account best practice, competitors’ implementations, refer to literature? Most importantly, were they followed as the search function was built?
  • A series of interviews with users both within and if at all possible external to the organisation. What is your experience of search? Does it help or hinder your job? What do you think could be done better?
  • A comparison with competitors/peers in the same market area or sector. Who else does search well and why?
  • Detailed tests of the search function. How relevant are the results presented? Is the user experience (UX) good? Does it handle wildcards, mis-spellings, quoted phrases, foreign language? Are the facets useful?
  • A review of the technical implementation. Is indexing efficient and complete? Is the underlying software up to date? How is configuration managed and changed? How is testing performed?
  • What’s the overall picture? What is done well and done badly? What are the key  prioritised recommendations for improving the search function?

Obviously, the more access we are given to people, software and documents during this process, the more detailed our examination can be. We realise this isn’t always easy! It’s also important to realise that we wouldn’t be doing our job if we pulled our punches – we will tell you exactly what we think is good and bad and back this up with detailed references.

We’ve carried out a number of reviews of this type over the years (a good example is the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics – you can even read the report we created). Most recently, we reviewed the website for a global consulting firm, ably assisted by intranet & search guru Martin White of our partners Intranet Focus. 

If you’re interested in this kind of review please do let us know – with over 15 years experience in search we’re confident we can tell you exactly how to improve your search function.


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