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testing site search: solutions

So you’ve tested your site search. You’ve submitted some bugs. You’ve probably got lots of responses to those bugs along the lines of “oh, that’s just a config setting” , “you don’t understand – that’s a feature of how this product works” and “the search is fine, you just need to get the authors to do their metadata properly”.

Now the config statement is fine. So long as changing the configurations actually sorts the problem. Don’t sit back at this point. Either make the recommended changes yourself or insist the supplier does. Don’t close the bug until they’ve proved the point.

Changes you can usually make to the configuration

  • change the crawled pages
  • change the indexed fields
  • default query syntax
  • change stop/noise words, stemming and the thesaurus
  • ranking parameters

Be very, very careful if you are changing the ranking parameters. If fact, I’d suggest this is a mini-project in it’s own right. You’ll need to be able to make one change at a time and compare the new results with the old, across a large set of queries. You probably want to do this with someone who has experience with the specific search engine.

The other two scenarios/excuses are more problematic. If the search has a feature that you thing make the results bad you’ll need to see if you can get it switched off/removed. If you can’t you may have chosen the wrong product.

If your supplier thinks that teaching authors to do metadata properly is a simple goal then you may need a new supplier. This is hardly the attitude that made Google the search masters.

(I’m not contradicting my Best Bets post here: I think there are scenarios where properly motivated and focused editorial staff can do a better job than natural search results. But I’m not thinking of your average author, I mean your central web or search team. I mean people paid to care about search.)

You change the guidelines/training for authors. You can probably get the current batch of authors to listen to some simple tips and pointers. They might remember. They might pass them on. But be realistic, how much control do you have over the authors? Metadata education is often a thankless and futile task. The best solutions are those that don’t require the authors to think about search, whether that is technology or intervention by search specialists.

Where the natural results just aren’t good enough and the authors can’t help there are things you can do on the search results page to help the user out.

Not really about testing but still coming soonish:  Changing the interface

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Written by Karen

August 17th, 2009 at 6:16 am

Posted in search