Search and you often don’t find…and here’s the reason why

Some call it “findability” – the art or science of making content in an organization “findable.”

And many big businesses haven’t figured how to do that yet.

Their employees often can’t locate the information they need to do their jobs effectively, a new survey reveals.

The crux of the matter isn’t that Search technologies are mediocre, but that many businesses don’t have an effective content “findability” strategy, concludes the study from AIIM, a non-profit organization based in Silver Spring, Md.

AIIM provides education, research, and best practices to help organizations find, control, and optimize their information.

Employees from more than 500 businesses who were polled for this study said enterprise search just didn’t offer them the same positive results as using consumer search applications, such as Google or Yahoo.

About eight in 10 respondents say their experience with such Web sites has created greater demand for enterprise-grade “findability.”

But it isn’t hot Search apps alone that will do the trick.

That’s a misconception a lot of organizations have, says Carl Frappaolo, vice-president, market intelligence at AIIM. “They think search is a function of an application and not something that someone needs to own and deliver,” Frappaolo notes.

Though half the workers surveyed said their enterprise search experience was inferior to what they got from consumer-facing Web sites, the vendors of enterprise search apps were given good approval ratings.

Most vendors had few dissatisfied users – Google only had eight per cent for example. IBM Dogear and Verity (recently acquired by Autonomy) had none.

Even the lowest-rated enterprise search tool, dTSearch, left only one-fifth of users dissatisfied.

“People don’t seem to be pointing to the search tools as the underlying problem here,” he says. “Enterprise search hasn’t failed. Enterprise findability has failed. ”

Web search experience has employees expecting instant results when they want to find information, says Laurent Simoneau, president of Coveo Solutions Inc. But the challenges faced by enterprise search are much different.

The search must sift through multiple forms of documents such as e-mails, PDF files, and legacy system data.

Then there’s the huge volume of information.

“A large bank in Canada would have about 10 billion e-mails to index, for example,” he says. By comparison, he said, Google indexes about 20 to 30 billion documents.

But a bank can’t use a million servers, as Google might to complete its search query. So enterprises must pick and choose what information is indexed and becomes findable in a search.

Typically, companies index their information during office downtime – on weekends and at night. But indexing hundreds of millions of documents can take a couple of weeks, Simoneau says.

“We’re a pretty complex application,” he says. “Searching on half a billion pieces of information is not a trivial thing to do.”

Companies need for a strategy to earmark the most relevant and up to date content to be picked up by enterprise search. But about half of those surveyed by AIIM have no formal goal for defining what information is findable.

Not all corporate content needs to be available on search, Frappaolo says. It may seem like a good idea at first, but opening up all that information is resource intensive and could expose a company to risk around sensitive documents.

The same approach applied to optimizing Web content to be found by customers needs to be applied inside the enterprise, says Aaron Hill, marketing director for online strategy and services at the Cary, N.C.-base software developer SAS Institute Inc. He guides enterprise search within the private company.

“The goal is continuing to monitor the top 50 key words that the field is searching for and making sure that content is as findable as possible,” he says. “You start to see the patterns and the trends, and then you set the common key words so the documents are coming up strong.”

SAS uses Google Enterprise behind their firewall, Hill says. The well-renowned name brand has helped boost employee confidence they can use the system to find the information they need.

Just like Web marketers focus on loading up pages with key words to get placed higher on organic search results, businesses must train their employees to use key words in documents they expect to be findable. That means breaking habits like using acronyms and technical jargon only.

If the best documents still aren’t showing up with a search, then book some internal “ad space,” Hill advises.

“If you are not ranking well on an organic Google search, you buy a paid ad,” he says. “We took that same philosophy and did that internally.”

Just like advertisements jump the queue in the consumer version of Google for prime page real estate, Hill can hard-wire links in to the results returned on searches. This way, he knows an important document is easy for staff to find when they are looking for it.

Companies who find employees frustrated with finding the right information should put in place a findability strategy, AIIM’s Frappaolo advises.

“It’s understanding why we provide access to content and what we want our users to get out of this,” he says.

A good enterprise search tool often has a viral effect once it enters an organization, Coveo’s Simoneau says. Once it starts producing results, everyone will want to start using it with their content.

“The enterprise might start by solving a particular problem it has with search,” he says. “Then it’s ‘oh, what about this legal discovery project, can we use this same technology?'”

Coveo can be rolled out incrementally to support this, Simoneau adds. The software works on an open platform that allows search connectors to be built to access data stores. That way an enterprise could have their own unique file formats findable, and start using new file formats in the future.

For Hill, the SAS strategy has resulted in saved time for employees who spend less time looking for information they need. It’s also created a consistent message and helped guarantee employees have correct information.

“The real challenge internally is not that search optimization techniques are difficult to do,” he says. “But it’s about getting people to think about things like keyword density on a document.”

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