Search Tuning: Search Results Matter

This article expands the discussion of search results that began in my previous article about search tuning in knowledge management systems. It is intended for those who want to optimize the utility of search results for users of a content repository system.

Your content repository may be the best source of knowledge in your business, but your users may try other options if they can’t find what they’re looking for. Effective knowledge management includes giving your users the best chance of finding their information by offering user-friendly search results. Here’s what you need to do to keep users coming back.

Are your search results scattered?1. Make It Easy to Revise the Query and Search Again

Let’s say that a user searches for “New produxt.” Typos will happen. Don’t make her use the Back button and retype the whole query! Be sure to redisplay the search query in a location that is easy to find and update. Make it simple for her to change that “x” to a “c” and run the search again.

Redisplaying the search query and allowing it to be revised easily is useful no matter what the reason for changing the query. In addition, to keep the user rolling in the right direction, the New Search or Search Again link has to appear near the field where the query is redisplayed.

2. Make Searched Text Stand Out

When displaying results, make the specific words that the user searched appear bold or highlighted. This helps the user see how the search result relates to his query. Tony Russell-Rose writes in UX Magazine that this “has the effect of drawing attention to key fragments in the text and communicating how closely the query terms appear to one another. This is known to be a strong indicator of relevance.”

3. Make Results Identifiable

So your knowledge management system returns a list of results that contain the searched text. That’s only part of the job. Can the user recognize what each entry in the list of results represents? Whether it is a web page or a pdf file? What the text actually says about the queried topic?

To help the user find the right result among a list of similar items, you have to present more than just the title of each result. Displaying overview text, matches of searched text, URL and images (where appropriate) helps the user identify the desired item.

4. Make Sorts and Filters Easy to Access

Sorts and filters are only helpful if they are used. Present filter and sort options before searches or make them clearly visible after. StyleMatters has found that users will often not use filters or sorts when they have to scroll to see them.

Improve Your Knowledge Management System’s Search Results

Search results are like road signs that guide users to information. Do your signs help the user get to the correct destination? Can the user change plans and find new destinations easily? Taking the time to optimize the utility of your search results improves user experience and helps keep them on track to the right information.

Don’t forget to get feedback from your users and implement it to make the search experience even better! Have questions about improving your search results? Talk to the knowledge management specialists at StyleMatters for help.

Alan Biehn currently works as a Technical Writer for StyleMatters in Philadelphia’s tallest building. He holds a BS in Audio Recording from The Ohio State University and recently earned his Masters in Environmental Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Alan has worked as a marketing writer and editor for nonprofit organizations and ESL professionals, as well as for major commercial clients.

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