Search does add value to an intranet – the numbers prove it

by | Aug 22, 2014 | Intranets, Search

All to often search seems to be an add-on to an intranet. Days of effort have been expended in development the information architecture. Cards have been sorted, trees hacked to pieces and usability tests have been analysed to the nth degree. Has the same effort been applied to search? Very rarely. The concept of search never features in card sorting, tree analysis or usability tests. All too often when someone uses search in a usability exercise eyebrows are raised and the information architecture is revised to make sure it never happens again. Intranet design developments are largely built on anecdotal evidence. A truly innovative step presented at a conference or in the Intranet Innovation Awards is duplicated without any consideration of whether it is a transferable approach.

I was therefore delighted to see a new series of blogs from Andy Jankowski of Enterprise Strategies in which he applies econometric analysis to the wealth of information now gathered by Andrew Wright from the 200 surveys in his Worldwide Intranet Challenge database.

In the second of his posts Andy has looked at the debate between the respective values of menus and search in intranet content findability. I would recommend you read the complete post to understand the caveats around the analysis but the top line outcomes are as follows, quoting directly from the blog post but with some slight editing for length

“With 95% confidence we conclude that:

      • an increase in ranking “the intranet search helps me find the information I need” results in a higher valuation of the respondents intranet as a whole.
      • the impact for the same question related to menus was statistically insignificant.

So what exactly does this mean? Let’s start with what this does not mean. This does not mean that menus themselves are insignificant, purposeless or should be done away with. It also does not mean that search is the answer to everything. You have to remember what our study is trying to prove and that is which intranet attributes most positively (or negatively) impact users’ perceptions of their intranet. In other words, if you are going to redesign your intranet with the intent of improving user’s perception you invest more time and money on search optimization than refining menu navigation. According to our findings, you will get a bigger positive (user perception) return on your investment”

This investment needs to be in at least one full time search manager. During September both Findwise and AIIM will be publishing search surveys and I have (sadly) little doubt that they will both indicate that the majority of organisations have less than 0.5FTE for search support. Investing in a new or upgraded search application without the people to manage it will be a total waste of money. Recently I was looking at the intranet search of a 30,000+ employee company that prides itself on innovation and product quality. The search was so broken that it was hardly being used at all. The cost to the company of time wasted in emailed or calling colleagues to find information must have been massive, and of course those colleagues would not know the total scale of the information resources of the company. At best probably a few hours a week was being spent by a very small intranet team on search performance enhancement.

This is a very common scenario and hopefully a wider awareness of the analysis undertaken by Enterprise Strategies will provide a good basis for a reconsideration of the value of intranet search.

Martin White