Courtney Reyers is the enterprise digital strategist for the American Society for Microbiology in Washington, DC, and a member of ASAE’s Communications Professional Advisory Council.
Your website is one of your top communication tools, so it’s crucial to help visitors find the information they are seeking. Here are 10 principles to follow to enhance your organization’s on-site search.
The most important thing about your website is not how pretty it looks or what your board president thinks. It’s making sure that search crawlers can find your content when humans are looking for it.
Having a well-executed, thought-out search experience once people get to your site is important, too, but it requires long-term commitment and investment.
In 2018, I oversaw the redesign and deployment of the American Society of Microbiology website, which attracts more than 1 million visitors a year. During the tail-end of the project, we faced what turned out to be the biggest technical obstacle of our careers: on-site search. On-site search is the tool users use to search your website—usually an out of the box solution, or a Solr-based search tool. However, we did get a few key components right while building our site, which can lay a great foundation for on-site search, including:
What we did not do was map out our on-site search experience. Sadly, the research-grounded approach we embraced for the website itself was not mirrored in our search thinking. We naively assumed search would work out of the box, not thinking about the organic evolution of the human search experience that had vastly changed in the last decade.
There are plenty of search tools out there, but some of the industry leaders include Elastic, Solr, and Lucene. When selecting a search vendor, treat them like any other big vendor: use a matrix grading system, ask what their value proposition is, and understand what their strategic approach to search looks like.
Also understand that it will be hard to get a real demo unless you get the vendors plugged into your systems so that they can actually index your content. That’s why it’s worth taking the extra steps to sweet talk your IT team into giving these vendors preliminary access so you can see how search will really work for you.
If you’re at the beginning of a digital transformation, start thinking about your on-site search as well as search in general (immerse yourself in everything Google—they own 93 percent of the search market). Here are 10 major takeaways to tape to your monitor: