Does Your Search Suck?

02 October
2009

Yesterday at Silverchair we put on our first-ever webinar, with the irreverent title “Does Your Search Suck? Transform It From Frustrating to Fantastic With Semantic Search & Browse.” We had quite a crowd, which tells you something about how people feel about search status quo.

So—why’d we tackle search first? In a nutshell, search equals money. Search that works makes your website more useful. More useful sites get more usage. And more usage translates to more revenue, or whatever metric you use to measure success.

Jake Zarnegar, President and CTO at Silverchair and a blogger here at It’s All Semantics, kicked things off by highlighting the causes and symptoms of bad search and how to treat them. He also alerted us to some things that complicate search but can’t be controlled:

[caption id="attachment_219" align="alignnone" width="467"]GoodBadUgly_Search Search—The Good, The Bad & The Ugly (slide courtesy of Jake Zarnegar)[/caption]

Jake left us with some great advice:

To put Jake’s presentation in real-world perspective, Matthew O’Rourke, Editorial Director of Journal Watch, followed up with a talk about why Silverchair’s semantic search solution was implemented at Journal Watch.

Matthew taught us that the relatively short length of journal articles (compared to War and Peace, for example) offers fewer clues for search engines; add the complexity of STM content into the mix and searching gets especially tricky. Silverchair’s semantic search solves the problem by using semantic tagging to precisely mark and normalize equivalent concepts and make them findable no matter what term the author chose to describe them and searchers used to find them.

For example, in “old” Journal Watch search, the very rare maple syrup urine disease resulted in 14,341 results, misleading users to assume that there is “an absolute epidemic of maple syrup urine disease” (to quote Matthew from one of the funniest moments in the webinar). Problem? The old search engine searched for “disease” separately from the complete phrase. With Silverchair’s semantic search in place, the results set includes 1 article—the only article covering this rare condition in Journal Watch.

Matthew also reminded us that the customer is always right: Users don’t make search mistakes, publishers just give bad results.

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That little empty search box sits between your users and your content. You can have the best content in the world behind the search box, but if people can’t find your content with search, they won’t give you their attention—or their business.

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