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Learned: Site Search Best Practices

We all know that anything to do with search is hot these days.
And now the smart companies are starting to take a closer look at the search engines on their own sites.
Whether you call this “site search” or “internal search” or ‘who-knows-what’ search, I predict this area is going to see a lot of excitement and evolution in the next few years.
I recently completed a fascinating site search consulting project for a large media company. Since they publish a number of magazines, they have a vast content archive and a vested interest in making it as easy as possible for Website visitors to be able to get to their content as efficiently as possible.
My company was hired to help the media company understand how to improve their site search. During the course of the project, my colleagues and I developed an unofficial list of what we started to refer to as “Site Search Best Practices.” These best practices are independent of any one particular site search system (i.e., the technology solution) and will be of benefit to any company, large or small, that is implementing site search.
So, without much further ado, here are some of our Site Search Best Practices:

# Make sure you are measuring usage and other key metrics related to site search so that you can keep track of the impact that any fine-tuning to the system makes. You can’t manage what you can’t measure.
# Most site search systems allow the Website owner to configure the default search results layout a number of different ways. For instance, you usually have control over whether or not the results display the article’s full URL, author’s name, publication date, etc. Consider your particular target market and configure the search results layout in a way that is most relevant for them. If you don’t know, ask them!
# Include a highly visible link to ‘search tips’ content on every search results page, preferably adjacent to the search input text field, and make sure this content is written in plain English and kept up-to-date.
# Automatically display ‘search tips’ content if the user’s search does not generate any search results. Don’t just strand them on a page that says, “No results found.”
# Follow Search Engine Optimization (SEO) best practices when creating new content/pages (and design templates) because a page that is well configured for an external search engine will also be well configured for an internal search engine.
# If you are using a content management system (CMS), ensure that your internal content development team understands how to properly input and tag the content they are creating and why this is so important.
# Synchronize your site search system’s crawling/indexing schedule with your content publishing schedule, whether that be daily, weekly, or monthly. And make sure it stays in sync.
# Configure the site search system to automatically notify representatives of your company’s IT department AND content/publishing department in the event the system goes offline. Because it will, and you want to be the first to know.
Since the site search landscape is in a constant state of flux, I consider this list to be very much a ‘work-in-progress.’ I encourage you to add to it by leaving a comment.