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The 7 Deadly Sins of Site Search

Kevin M. Ryan
The 7 Deadly Sins of Site Search Kevin M. Ryan

Are you attributing poor or below-target conversion rates to lackluster creative or poor keyword selection? How about improper use of landing pages? Perhaps users can’t or don’t want to go through the effort of digging through your site manually, so they simply leave.

Consider the traditional department store design. A purposeful intricate labyrinth of product displays and an army of sales people stand between the buyer and his intended purchase. The theory behind this practice is simple: the more products a customer must see on the way to his intended purchase, the more products he will buy.

You can find the department store guided shopping principle in casinos around the world as well. All but a precious few customers have accepted this as part of the shopping or gambling experience.

You shouldn’t apply this methodology to the web.

Then again, searching for a problem where one does not exist is no solution either.

Defining architecture
When technology and marketing cross paths, often the result is not pleasant. The latest casualty of the assigned roles we have established for ourselves as interactive marketers may be enterprise or “site side” search. Integration and engagement are ubiquitous buzzwords used to define the next evolution of marketing, but often the narrow framework of integration is limited to how we define marketing efforts.

Aside from focused marketing dollars and a solid investment in creating an online brand experience, many websites have not differed from traditional brick and mortar storefront designs. They place users at a disadvantage by requiring them to navigate content and product inventory on the site owner’s terms.

7 deadly sins?
A new white paper from the enterprise search provider Vivisimo alleges seven deadly sins of enterprise search: Omission, Apathy, Complexity, Omnipotence, Egoism, Brand Confusion and Multiple Personality.

The first sin is pretty self explanatory but others, like Apathy are certainly worth a second look. In summary, the apathetic approach to enterprise search appears to be defined as using the least expensive and easiest to implement approach to enterprise search without consideration for efficiency. Apathy in enterprise search means inefficient search and frustrated site visitors.

Complexity means adding too many search boxes to your site experience. Vivisimo cites the example of the agricultural giant Archer Daniels Midland that provides both product and corporate website search functions. While this architecture seems pretty clear to me, Vivisimo argues two or more search boxes will confuse site visitors.

Egoism places the site owner’s needs ahead of the user’s needs. Vivisimo accused Cadillac.com of this sin, citing that Cadillac provides search tips on the page. I don’t think Cadillac can be defined as a sinner in this example since the search execution is not preempted by learning how to search as the report stipulates. 

Never beyond redemption
Some examples of enterprise search sins can be attributed to work in progress or generally deemed unnecessary by the site owner. For example, I can understand how Yum! brands (an example of Omission in the Vivisimo report) may not want or need site search functionality. Site navigation is spectacular on the site, and there is a restaurant locator function.

What else could you need to search for on quick service restaurant parent company site?

Vivisimo appears to have defined Omnipotence as the implementation of a human language search functionality similar to the less-than-popular Ask Jeeves model. Vivisimo cited the Bank of America site and the query “accounts for minors” as it relates to a hypothetical search for a 16 year old girl needing a savings account. Said search only returns a custodial account that was not adequate for the hypothetical searcher’s needs.

However, when I executed an identical search on the site, within seconds of completing my search, a live online representative chat window appeared. Only a minute later, my question had been answered and the representative even provided a link to my nearest branch.

If it came down to allocating more dollars to a pricier enterprise search solution or more competent live help, it appears Bank of America made the right decision.

Sinner, heal thyself
Vivisimo’s Brand Confusion sin appears to be nothing more than an attack on a competitor. Vivisimo cites the example of a non United Technologies Corporation (UTC) brand name appearing in UTC’s website URL string in a search. The URL in question belongs to Vivisimo competitor MondoSearch, and I can see no evidence of brand confusing search, quite the contrary in fact.

I am not certain as to how Vivisimo arrived at the conclusion that a URL might cause brand confusion, but after conducting multiple searches I found everything I was looking for on the UTC site, and I can find no conclusive research that would indicate a URL search string causes brand confusion.

The seventh deadly sin -- multiple personality -- suggests there should be no difference in the appearance of a site search page and brand page. Citing unsourced research relating to a user’s preference to search over navigation, Vivisimo suggests that Claritin’s website fell short in site search execution because the search function differs in appearance from the home page. Did I miss something? What does the site’s appearance have to do with a preference to search over navigate?

Exercising the demons
The risk in leaving search out of your site design and layout plans is pretty simple: if users can’t find what they seek, then they will either move on or head to a search engine for help. Ultimately, this becomes a control issue in that you never know what a user may find on a search engine. A potential or existing customer may find something helpful on a search engine or a series of blog postings complaining about your products.

Certainly taking a closer look at enterprise search functionality is worthy endeavor. If there is anything to be learned from reports and white papers provided by product vendors, may I suggest the following: looking for problems where there are none is inappropriate, and every piece of information you receive today has to be closely scrutinized for situational relevance. 

iMedia Search Editor Kevin M. Ryan is Chief Executive Officer at Motivity Marketing. .


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