How does search affect delivery and presentation methods?

Search technology and its application by our users is an ever-growing aspect of technical documentation today. How many times have you seen “I found the following Microsoft Knowledge Base article using a Google search.” (or have you been guilty of doing the same yourself?) I say “guilty” because it’s funny that Microsoft has built the best content site in their Knowledge Base and yet a competitor’s search engine brought the user to the site.

Sure, any knowledge base absolutely must have a search engine and search box available to visitors to the site. A manual of some sort was once a requirement for a consumer product, but I’m not sure if a book-like manual is a requirement any more. Will the custom crafted search engine go the same way?

In the case of someone finding the content using another search engine, it means that for that particular visitor, all the resources and time and money spent on providing a search engine specific to that knowledge base was wasted. There was zero return on investment for the search engine but all return on investment on the content itself.

5 Comments

  • November 13, 2008 - 10:21 am | Permalink

    Anne;

    You’d appreciate the insight that Robert Lee of Symantec brought to the recent Best Practices Conference: http://216.122.254.28/bestpractices/2008/abstracts.htm#symantec

    They have done just what you’re advocating: focused on improving the search results via *content* improvement, not on trying to tweak a custom search engine. In fact, Robert told the audience that he uses Google as his “tool” for improving their content’s searchability.

  • November 13, 2008 - 2:17 pm | Permalink

    Oh, excellent pointer. Thanks Bob. Their system sounds awesome – and reminds me that I need to get better at reading our Google Analytics reports and analyzing search results!

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  • November 17, 2008 - 11:46 am | Permalink

    You might be interested in the book “Click: What Millions of People are Doing Online and Why it Matters”. I attended a session by this author at the Texas Book Festival and his data and conclusions were fascinating.
    http://hitwise.com/other/click.php

  • November 24, 2008 - 10:55 am | Permalink

    If you are looking at being found by Google, then page headings become very important.

    A search index is a concordance, a search of key words. This means, if your American users are searching for “Amortisation” and your British users are searching for “Depreciation”, then you might have a problem.

    Folksonomies, tagging and tag clouds need to be part of the solution.

    A LOT of documentation just isn’t on the Web, and therefore invisible to Google. We (Cherryleaf) did a straw poll and found only 16% of respondents had published their documentation in a format that would be found by Google. We have a generation growing up who use search engines above anything else, and this invisibility will become an issue for technical communicators.

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