Make it SEO: A Practical Search and Findability Audit for Intranet Content

In Search of Search, Part 3

In a Nutshell: If we can agree that search is the heart of your intranet, then a findability audit—i.e. determining how easy it is to find a specific piece of content—is akin to its annual health checkup. For part three of this series, Ephraim has designed a step-by-step guide that will walk you through optimizing your content to make it as findable—and as functional—as possible

BEFRIENDING SEARCH

To most intranet owners, the term “intranet search” sounds pretty ominous. But ominous with good reason: the unavoidable association with the Godfather of search—a.k.a. Google—makes intranet search sound convoluted and complex. It sounds like it might need a dedicated team of IT techies and a data scientist whose sole purpose is to tweak algorithms to optimize performance and results. It sounds, well, hard. Right? Wrong. It’s really not very difficult at all.

IMPROVE THE CONTENT, IMPROVE THE SEARCH

As mentioned, it’s easy to get lost in the assumed complexities of search. But it’s also easy to overcome those assumptions and get comfortable with it. Look at it this way: search is simply the ability to find what you need to help you achieve a specific task. In fact, good search should look as simple as this: click inside search box> type query> [relevant content] bubbles to the top of results> “click”. See, simple!

That said, there are many factors that contribute to making search “good” and one of those factors is the ever increasing cache of intranet-specific search queries that are carried out by your employees. These queries (and their subsequent actions) are critical to helping algorithms surface relevant, accurate content. Whether you click result number one, or click “back” and modify your query, accurate search is dependent on accurate setup; specifically, accurate content setup.

ON YOUR MARKS, GET SET….

This findability audit was designed to help you optimize your content structure to make it as findable and as functional as possible. It’s simple and actionable. Use it to assess how employees go about finding what they’re looking for. Use it to assess how findable your content is. Use it to inform what content you should be putting on your intranet. Or use it to assess how existing content should be modified to make it more findable and functional. Honestly it’s the Swiss army knife of intranet search audits!

…GO!

STEP 1: Review the page/section’s purpose

Before we dive into the details, you’d be well advised to articulate a few key details about the content you’ll be assessing.

What page or section are you auditing?
A simple one to begin with: write down exactly what page you are auditing. This is obviously super straightforward, but it helps to contextualize the audit.
EXAMPLE: The holiday calendar

What is the purpose of the page?
The answer here is found by answering a single question: “Why does this page exist?” While this step will help focus your audit, it can also be revisited if you get stuck at any point along the way.
EXAMPLE: Purpose: help employees plan vacations/time off

Who is the audience?
Get specific. Going beyond just “employees” will allow you to create content that is more helpful, engaging, and findable.
EXAMPLE: Employee is planning a family trip and wants to request time off adjacent to a paid holiday.

What terms are people searching for to get to this page?
There are a few routes to arriving at this question’s answer: a deep dive into intranet search logs; observation of, or querying, “typical” users; a good old-fashioned brainstorm; or any combination of the three.
EXAMPLE: Holiday calendar, holidays, paid holidays, PTO, paid time off, office holidays, vacation.

STEP 2: Assess the Page

You’ve peered into the soul of your content, now let’s add some life to it.

Search for each keyword or phrase and note the search placement
For each search term note where the page you’re looking for shows up on the SERP (search engine results page—the page that contains the results relating to your query). i.e does it show up first, second, fifth or—God forbid—page two?

Rate how clearly the page title conveys the page’s purpose
When listed in search results, how obvious is the purpose of the page? Would an employee on her first day know why she should visit that page? Would she know what task that page was designed to help her complete?

Use this simple rating scale:

  1. Poor – The page title is vague, confusing or misleading
  2. Okay – The page title is accurate, though minimalist or too general
  3. Great – The page title conveys the reasons to visit the page with absolute clarity

Rate how clearly the page summary conveys the page’s purpose
Similar to Step 2.1 above, but referring specifically to the page summary: Does it accurately summarize why the page was created? Is it both clear and concise? Could it be tighter?

Simple rating scale:

  1. Poor – No summary or it’s confusing and wonky
  2. Okay – The summary is accurate but too long or hard to read
  3. Great – The summary is concise and helps employees feel confident in visiting the page

Note the number of clicks from the homepage to the current page
How many clicks are required to get from the homepage to this page? The result is relative (depending on how granular your content is—“This week’s news” should require fewer clicks than “Logo lock-ups” for example) but generally speaking fewer clicks is better.

Is above-the-fold content actionable (desktop only)?
Does above-the-fold content (i.e. the “upper” part of the page) provide links to required tools? Does it provide clear links to pertinent content on the lower portion of the page, or to clear instructions? Are employees greeted with a wall-of-text or a large irrelevant image?

Is completing page-specific tasks intuitive?
Is it easy to get things done? Can you do what you came to do without needing guidance? Does the content help get employees in and out?

Rate how well the page links to related tools and content
Does the page link to related tools and material? Does it link to similar tasks, relevant policies, or places to ask questions?

STEP 3: Improve the Page

This step is pretty much an abridged version of our previous post “Embracing The Journey: 9 Tips For Managing And Improving Intranet Search”. If you didn’t catch that post or in case you don’t have time to read it right now, let’s assume we’re about to optimize the “holiday calendar” page…

Add the most important search keywords to the page title
EXAMPLE: Update “holiday calendar” to “holiday calendar – list of paid days off and office closures”

Update the page title to ensure it makes sense in a SERP context
EXAMPLE: See example directly above

Update tags with plenty of additional search keywords
EXAMPLES: Holiday calendar, holidays, paid holidays, PTO, paid time off, office holidays, vacation. (All the search keywords, basically.)

Update the page summary to better explain the tasks related to the page
EXAMPLE: This page lists paid holidays when our offices are closed. Use it to plan your vacations and trips, and plan large meetings and company events.

Make key page actions/tasks available above the fold
EXAMPLE: Make sure the list of upcoming paid holidays are immediately visible, or there is a very clear in-page link to the list.

Add links to related content and tools
EXAMPLE: Add links to the Leave Request page or application, the PTO Policy, any tool that employees use to see their current balance of available time off, any related leave policies, etc.

Add links to the page on its parent pages & other related pages
EXAMPLE: On a top-level “Pay And Benefits” page include a list of links to the most frequently accessed sub-pages and list the holiday calendar (if it is frequently visited).

STEP 4: Rinse and Repeat

Once you’ve conducted your audit and made updates, try searching for your page again. Navigate to it from multiple pages. Ask employees from a variety of departments to search for, and navigate to, that page.

Compare the before and after results of your audit. Is the updated page displaying higher on the SERP? Is it easier to understand the page purpose based on the title? When you arrive at the page, is it easier to complete required actions? If the answer to all of these questions is yes, take a bow and give yourself a pat on the back. If the answer is no to any of these, revisit each step with a touch more rigor.

BONUS POINTS: BEFORE AND AFTER GUERILLA TESTING

When you successfully complete Step 4 you can draw a line through the task and move on. However, if you want to be a bonafide, badge-bearing, card-holding, cape-wearing search hero, we’ve got an additional suggestion to turn your search-cred up to 11: Guerilla Testing. Here’s how you do it…

Once you’ve gone through Step 1 and have reviewed the page, write out a couple of scenarios that would give someone a reason to navigate to that page.

For example, here’s a scenario where someone would need to navigate to the “holiday calendar” page we mentioned earlier: “You’re planning a vacation next year and want to see if your plans coincide with any stat holidays. How would you find that information on the intranet?”

Notice we avoided using specific keywords or the page name in the prompt, and gave just enough context to make the task seem realistic. We also included “on the intranet” since omitting it leaves open the option to just ask Martha down the hall.

You can pose this question to a random cross section of employees and watch as they try to complete the task.

  • What intranet page do they start on?
  • Do they search or do they navigate?
  • What search terms do they use?
  • Do they click on the correct search result or on something else? What else do they click on?
  • Once on the page, how easily do they get to the needed info?

This kind of user testing provides valuable insights into the findability of your content both in terms of keywords required for optimization, as well as pages that should link to and from that page.

Much like Step 4, rinse and repeat. Try another round of guerrilla user testing with a different set of colleagues and observe the results. See an improvement? We bet you will!

HOW AND WHEN TO USE THIS AUDIT

Intranets should be treated as programs, not projects. Running the intranet as an ongoing program is pretty easy as long as you give your intranet some love on a regular basis. That said, there are times that will require a findability audit, and they generally fall within these scenarios:

Quarterly findability audit on “Top Content”

  1. Pull a list of the top 20 most visited pages on your intranet.
  2. Look for the search terms that should surface those pages.
  3. Use the findability audit to see how you can help the owners of those pages update their content on top pages to make them easier to find.

Regular reviews for specific teams:

  1. Meet with the HR team quarterly to review the top intranet pages they own.
  2. The same applies to IT, Finance, Facilities, and other teams.

Major content updates

  • When teams are planning to update their content, an audit of existing content provides findability feedback that can be incorporated into all future updates.

Newly added content

  • When teams create new content and sections, running a pre-publish findability audit will ensure that content is easily found by those that need it.

On-demand

  • Perhaps in addition to the above options, you can review content on an ad-hoc basis, letting content owners know that you’re there if they need you.

SHARING THE LOVE

All this might invite butterflies into your stomach, but trust me: once you’ve gone through the process a couple of times it becomes easier and easier. And who knows, you might even enjoy it!

Remember, your intent is simply to optimize mission-critical elements that will in turn optimize what appears on your SERP, elements including:

  • Page title (and short title to show in the navigation)
  • Page summary/intro
  • Page tags
  • Actionable content above-the-fold
  • Links to related tasks and information
  • Links to the page from elsewhere

If you think you need to improve intranet search at your organization (there’s always room for improvement!), bear in mind that it all starts by simply showing your content a little bit of love. Well, a little love and this findability audit.

And remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day, but back then they didn’t have access to ThoughtFarmer.

If you’re interested in learning more about the steps you can take to create a great search experience, our free eBook is now available.

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