Searchability refers to the ability for users to search your site. Once on your site, good searchability means the search tool effectively helps users find information.  There are many different things that affect searchability. As an user experience professional, there are many things we can’t control. This post tasks about the things we can assess and improve. For a backgrounder, read Website Search Sucks: A Common Website Problem.

Site Search Analytics

Here are some ways to approach solving search problems:

Are site analytics enabled on our site?
If the search analytics aren’t enabled for your site, enable them! At the very least you can collect the terms people are searching for and which pages are the most frequently accessed. You don’t need to set conversion goals, just start collecting the basic information

What are the most frequent searches?
Perform these searches on your site to see what results you get. Although you won’t know the user’s exact intent, you can still see what comes up. Are these the right results or are they different than you expected?

Dealing with misspellings and synonyms
What are some commonly misspelled words? Enter these words into the search box to see what results you get. Does the search results page give the ever unhelpful “0 Results Found” or does it suggest another term? For synonyms, does the system know to redirect a user? The search tool should be able to direct the user to a more useful search. If it doesn’t, make a recommendation to improve this problem.

What are some long tail words?
Take a few of those long tail words and search for them. See what results come up. How can you make the long tail searches more helpful? How can users be directed to related topics? Make sure you know what happens when users perform these long tail searches, then make recommendations for improving these searches.

Metadata and Taxonomy

Here are ways you can approach solving metadata and taxonomy problems.

Are we using metadata and taxonomy?
If you’re not using metadata and taxonomy, start! That’s an easy recommendation. It may not be up to you to implement it, but if you can sell the value of it and plan for it, your company will already be a step ahead.

If we are using metadata and taxonomy, are we applying it consistently?
See how well items are indexed with metadata and taxonomy. You can go through items to see what values are applied to which items. You can also look into calculating precision and recall. These will give you statistics you can then take to your business leaders to prove the value of improving the taxonomy and metadata.

Are we enabling the users to search for information via the metadata and taxonomy? How well are our metadata and taxonomy tools implemented? What are the attributes that improve the search results on the site? How is our site employing these attributes?
Does your site use any faceted or hierarchical navigation? Does it allow for any filtering of search results? If you are already using metadata and taxonomy, look at how metadata and taxonomy can be better leveraged on a site. Use the commonly searched words to determine how the metadata and taxonomy can further support the search.

User Testing

I suggested doing user testing to diagnose searchability problems. Once you’ve made an attempt to solve the searchability problems, do user testing again. Run users through the same scenarios and compare the results. Do users have an easier time searching for information? Are they faster at finding information? Can they more easily find related information?

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