Embracing the Journey: 9 Tips for Managing and Improving Intranet Search

In Search of Search, part 2

In a Nutshell: “Search Functionality” may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of an intranet, but an intranet without search would be like the internet without Google – fundamentally less functional. In part two of this series, Ephraim delivers 9 tips that will optimize your intranet’s search capabilities.

BEYOND THE BOX

While you may not notice it, the search experience goes beyond the search box. Way beyond. Way, way beyond. In fact, the search experience runs so deep that it’s functionality is comparable to the chassis of a car: it may not be super sexy, it probably won’t win any awards, most folks will never understand or appreciate how critical it is, but without it, everything will fall apart.

Given such a high degree of importance (importance that will be reinforced over the course of this piece), you’d think that optimizing your intranet for search would be super complex… just look at how many people Google needs to make their search solution work! Well, good news: a measured amount of focus and rigor will allow you to achieve search nirvana in no time at all. And it starts with something you already have: content.

INTRANET SEARCH: WHERE CONTENT IS STILL KING

While your search setup may be technically on-point, delivering a great search experience is impossible without some good ole fashioned content. “Wait, what?” I hear you say. “But I thought that…..?” Yes, you’re right: content no longer holds the throne when it comes to optimizing your customer-facing online outlets, but when it comes to your inward-facing intranet—and as we discuss throughout this series—content still wears the crown; well-written, well-structured, fully-optimized content.

With that in mind, the following tips will detail how you can optimize your content to deliver an amazing search experience, not just for you but for everyone in your organization.

MAKING CONTENT FINDABLE

1. Optimize Page Names
A simple one to start: meaty keywords leave no room for ambiguity when it comes to conveying the purpose and scope of an intranet page. What’s a keyword? According to the fine folks at semrush, whose livelihood depends on an in-depth knowledge of such things, a keyword is “a reference point for finding other words of its kind, or any information regarding those words.”

Example: let’s say you needed a quick refresher on how best to manage intranet search: you knew about this article and that it was written by Ephraim, so you typed “intranet search ephraim freed” into Google. Given that Google has already indexed this page, and your query contained highly contextual keywords Google knew—with a high degree of probability—that this page would answer your query. If, however, you had just typed “intranet tips” into the ineffable search engine, you probably would have had to navigate to—dare we say it—page 2 of the search results. So, the more contextually relevant keywords your search contains the better your results.

Assuming that to be true, you can also see how the search phrase “access retirement savings 401k account” would surface a more accurate set of results than just “retirement savings” since the former contains a selection of highly-relevant keywords.

Recommendation: Ask yourself two questions: “why will people want to come to this page?” and, “what problem does this content solve?” Your answers should inform both the page title and content structure.

2. Include Keywords in Summaries
Adding a keyword-rich summary has a variety of (often cascading) benefits. For example, additional keywords will be indexed, meaning content will be more findable and functional, meaning users will better understand the purpose of the page, meaning adoption and engagement rates will increase.

Recommendation: Writing summaries that begin with “Use this page to [insert contextually relevant, keyword-heavy description]” will ensure content owners adopt a task-oriented, user-focused mindset, which will also ensure that the page’s purpose is crystal clear.

3. Add Metadata
Metadata is defined by the Content Marketing Institute as “information that expresses context and meaning about something”. While most of us know metadata as categories and tags, it nonethless stands to reason that the more metadata you can attach to piece of content, the easier it will be for your search engine to suggest that content when required.

It’s probably fair to assume that, for most folks at least, adding metadata tends to be a have-to-do vs. a want-to-do, but the task is actually a must-do, and for good reason: adding rich, relevant, contextual keywords makes for highly functional and highly findable content.

Recommendation: Categorize and add tags to your content, including synonym tags that use slightly different language from the page title. For example, adding tags like “holiday schedule” and “paid holidays” to the “holiday calendar” page will increase the likelihood of that page being surfaced where appropriate.

TEACH ‘EM HOW TO FISH

4. Train content owners on search optimization
Good search relies on good content, and good content relies on good authors. The good news is that anybody can be a good author, you just need to help content owners understand how to optimize their content. Not only will imparting your knowledge make their hard work (read as: content) more functional, it will also make it more findable.

Recommendation: Create a simple audit tool—something as simple as a checklist will work—for assessing your intranet pages. In fact, the first 3 bullets on this list are a great starting point!

5. Report search traffic to relevant content owners
Everybody loves feedback, but let’s be honest, feedback is borderline useless unless it delivers actionable insights. For example, saying that a piece of content “tends to drone on a bit” is far less useful than suggesting “bullet points might make it easier to digest.”

Letting content owners know how their content is performing at both a high level (e.g. a chosen topic) and a more granular level (e.g. the metadata) will allow those owners to become better content creators.

Furthermore, since your expertise will be required less over time, the benefits of feedback extends from the short- into the long-term. A win-win!

Recommendation: Let your team know that you are the content gatekeeper/proof-reader and that you’ll suggest edits to optimize their work before it goes live. Such an approach will also alleviate the need for retrospective feedback and editing.

6. Help content owners conduct testing on their new content
Let’s say your HR team is adding a new intranet section about “Pet Health Insurance Benefits”. You can help optimize their content by running test searches for related terms. In this scenario (and as we saw above in point #2 and #3) your testing and research will probably indicate that “pet insurance”, “pet healthcare”, and “pet benefits” will help maximize the findability of the “Pet Health Insurance Benefits” section.

Recommendation: Create a simple search testing script that walks content owners through a step-by-step process. For example, such a process could be as simple as searching for an agreed upon piece of content in its current state using relevant terms, and modifying the metadata (possibly with those same search terms) until that piece of content is surfaced at #1 position.

REGULARLY MONITORING & IMPROVING INTRANET SEARCH

7. Keep a list of top search terms and regularly test search efficacy
Your intranet’s top search terms did not become so popular by accident. Those queries contain real insights into what employees are looking for—what helps them get work done—which in turn helps inform, create, and optimize all appropriate content.

Recommendation: Regularly report your list of top search terms and any major changes to that list to stakeholders and power users. This will ensure a happy, healthy intranet (read as engaging, functional intranet) and reinforce the value of ongoing search management.

8. Plan ahead to optimize for seasonal search terms
Searching for “seasonal” terms will generally result in out-of-date content appearing at the top of your query’s results page. For example, searching for “Open Enrolment” (i.e. that time of year when employees are allowed to make changes to their benefit options) will generally show the T’s and C’s from the year before. If those T’s and C’s have been changed or updated and Mr. Employee doesn’t realize he’s reading out-of-date content… well, you can see the potential for confusion.

Keeping tabs on intranet content that is seasonal and that requires regular updates will allow you to carry out preemptive optimization such as adding disclaimers to old content, or highlighting certain components of updated content such as effective dates.

Recommendation: Work with each centralized support team to identify cyclical/seasonal programs in advance, and schedule a time to preemptively review the findability of that content.

9. Regularly purge unused intranet pages
You know what they say, “if you haven’t used it in a year, throw it out.” The same holds true for content: you should purge the old, outdated stuff. There is a good chance it is having a negative effect on search results and content findability!

Recommendation: Analyze your content on a regular basis to see what content hasn’t been used for X number of days (I recommend the once-a-year approach). Be sure to alert content owners before you purge so they can review, it, save it, or update it.

WISHING YOU A GOOD JOURNEY

I’m a big fan of cliches. Not only do they include at least a seed of truth, the better ones also appeal to my internal-comms obsessed self. Take this example: “It’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey”. This is especially applicable to intranet search since delivering a great experience requires that we are fully aware of, involved in, and committed to the journey; the destination rarely amounts to little more than a consequence.

The real challenge in delivering a great search experience lies in the fact that the goal posts are always moving; being proactive isn’t so much a nice-to-have as it is a requirement. That said, creating a great search experience is a pretty straightforward task when you approach it practically, with the correct mindset, a solid set of tools (shameless plug: ThoughtFarmer), and a solid set of guidelines (shameless plug: this blog post).