The quick guide to improving intranet search
Intranet users are often disappointed with the search experience. And no wonder, most people are used to finding the information they need in seconds using Google or Bing. But it doesn’t have to be that way!
This article is a 4-minute read and will provide 13 examples of how to design a better search experience. If you want to learn more, check out this 15-minute on-demand webinar packed with examples of improving intranet search.
1. The search experience starts with your information architecture
Below we will present some general advice on how to improve intranet search. But first, let us just underline that you need to plan your search experience based on the information architecture of the solution. This is the way to find relevant areas when forming search categories or when deciding on search refiners.
2. Where to put the search box?
The first question you want to consider is probably where to put the search box. The most common choice is to put it in the top banner, either visible or with a search icon. An alternative is to put it on the start page. But if so, we think it is a good idea to also provide an icon in the top banner to make sure search is available from any location within the solution.
3. Search as you type can speed things up
The initial search experience commonly provides search hits in a drop-down list or search panel. Here, you can decide the number of hits that you want to show and make settings for how to present these. We believe that showing around ten hits is a good aim, then you can present the hits without having any scroll. Another recommendation is to activate ‘search as you type’ to provide the user with suggested results without having to input the whole search term.
4. Ask users ‘did you mean’
For this initial experience, we also believe that you should activate the ‘did you mean’ functionality to aid when users misspell search terms.
5. Narrow the scope with search categories
If the user does not find what he/she is looking for, the next step is to go to advanced search. In this scenario, you will probably not need search as you type, since there are other tools and means to help end-users find content. We recommend that you should set up search categories as a way for users to narrow the search scope to only search for people, collaboration teams, or news articles (e.g.).
6. Make it possible to refine the search result
For each search category, you can also add selected refiners to help the user narrow the search even further. Just as for search categories, the refiners should be based on terms relevant to your organization such as document types, product groups, or locations (e.g.). The number of refiners will vary between search categories and will depend on the content types/properties available. Having two or three refiners within a category is a common setup, but for some scenarios you might want to utilize more than that.
7. Add the possibility to submit feedback
You will need to improve the search experience on a regular basis, so we recommend that you should appoint a search administrator. Adding the possibility for end-users to submit search feedback can be a good way to provide the administrator with improvement suggestions. Besides commenting on the search result, the user should also be able to include a snapshot of the result provided for a certain term.
8. Use promoted search results
One way of improving the search experience based on feedback is to allow for promoted search results. This would mean that certain content will always show at the top of the list of search terms, for instance, that the sales process page always shows for the search term ‘sales’.
9. Monitor search statistics
Another powerful way of monitoring and improving the search experience is to study search statistics. Make sure to monitor common search terms to understand what users are looking for presently. But you will also need to know what searches are abandoned and what search terms return no search hits. All these examples can help the administrator in improving the search functionality.
10. Gold plate with search applications
We recommend that you gold-plate the search experience within the intranet by setting up search scopes that are available as stand-alone search applications. This should primarily be used for areas important to your organization and some common examples are find colleague, find business document, or find product (e.g.).
11. Ensure search experience in all clients and devices
You also need to deliver a great search experience on other devices than web browsers. We recommend prioritizing configuring search in Microsoft Teams and on mobile phones (and especially the intranet mobile app).
12. Include business systems in search
At some point, you might want to add the possibility to also search in business systems or databases. Based on the options in Microsoft 365, you can include further data sources in your intranet search and without any further license costs, you can add on-premises file shares, on-premises SQL, Azure SQL, Salesforce, ServiceNow, and several other common sources. Providing federated search can provide great value for end-users still, this is seldom part of the first version of intranet search.
13. Take good care of your content
Finally, don’t forget to take the best care of your content. Use clear titles on web pages and make sure that the page summary (often shown on the search results page) can make end-users understand the purpose of the certain web page.