More than just a search box


I just returned from another very successful KMWorld Conference in Washington where more than 900 people seemed more than happy to be buried in the underground conference rooms of the Renaissance Hotel for four days. In the absence of a specific intranet track this year, presentations on intranets appeared in the Knowledge Management (KM), SharePoint, and Enterprise Search tracks.

In conversations I had there with intranet managers, a common theme emerged: the underrated value of search in intranets.

Many delegates I spoke with who had intranet management responsibilities were anxiously awaiting the imminent move of their intranet to SharePoint 2013, but seemed not to have understood the implications of moving from SharePoint 2010 using FAST Search Server for SharePoint or higher. Radical upgrade of the search from the search application in the standard CAL license. Search is more than an add-on in SharePoint 2013: Getting the most out of the application requires a complete reassessment of search positioning and performance in the current version of the intranet.

In the case of non-SharePoint intranets, it always seems to me that the value of search is often not appreciated, a situation that also applies to a very large number of websites. The use of personas in intranet development is now widely adopted, but there is rarely enough detail in a persona to provide a good enough foundation to optimize search performance and achieve the best mix of navigation and search.

I thought it might be useful to go through some of the best books and reports on intranet research so that intranet managers have a good range of resources available to them as they prepare to write their plan. of intranet development for 2014.

Define user needs

The research chapter in Information Architecture for the Worldwide Web remains a masterpiece of writing and insight even though it was published in 1998. It is possible to download chapter in PDF. Although the book and chapter focus on website architecture, the basics apply to intranets.

The definitive book on research development is “Design of the research experienceby Tony Russell-Rose and Tyler Tate. This was published in late 2012 and should definitely be on the digital shelf of any intranet or website manager. What both books emphasize is the need for have a thoughtful view of research based on a good knowledge of user needs. Steve Krug’s book “The user is always right“explains how to develop personas, but the focus is on website development – as far as I know, there is no equivalent book on intranet persona development. In a corporate environment, at least users can be interviewed and advice on the interview process is exceptionally well presented by Steve Portigal in “Interview users. “

Research technology

I think it can be helpful to understand how research works so that the opportunities and challenges can be more easily assessed. My own book on “Company search“has two chapters on research technology and Sue Feldman delves into it”The answering machine. “A requirement to understand search technology is particularly important in the case of SharePoint 2013. BA-Insight has released two excellent eBooks on the subject, Agnès Molnar suggests a training video and there is an interesting analysis of the amount of FAST technology present in SharePoint 2010 and 2013 by Marcus johansson.

Search metrics

When it comes to search metrics, there’s a book that says it all – “Search analytics for your site“by Lou Rosenfeld. While the focus is primarily on websites, the book offers intranet managers a wealth of relevant advice. It is especially important to compare and contrast page click traffic metrics. and query results to get the right balance between search and navigation.

UI design research

There are a number of good resources on designing search interfaces. The subject appears in Design of the research experience and both Luc Wroblewski and Greg Nudelman have written books on how to integrate research into the mobile experience. The most comprehensive resource on intranet research is Volume 6 of the intranet guidelines from the Nielsen Norman group. This 181-page report contains 113 design recommendations based on their usability research, and 140 screenshot illustrations complement the results. The report also covers the search for employees. A word of warning about this report: some of the 42 case studies date back several years (there is a screenshot from 2005) and research technology has evolved significantly over the past few years.

Start looking!

While these resources are invaluable, there is no substitute for allocating time to perform a series of searches and the user’s perspective on the results.

Editor’s Note: Read more from Martin on the importance of research in Research as a decision support system

Martin White is Managing Director of Intranet Focus, Ltd. and is based in Horsham, UK. A computer scientist by profession, he has been involved in information retrieval and extraction for nearly four decades as a consultant, author and columnist. He is the author of “Company search”Published by O’Reilly Media and recently launched, an information service for search managers.

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