My first post back after too-long a period of time off. I wanted to jump back in and share some concrete thoughts on best bet governance.
I’ve previously written about best bets and how I thought, while not perfect, they were an important part of a search solution. In that post, I also described the process we had adopted for managing best bets, which was a relatively indirect means supported by the search engine we used for the search solution.
Since moving employers, I now have responsibility for a local search solution as well as input on an enterprise search solution where neither of the search engines supports a similar model. Instead, both support the (more typical?) model where you identify particular search terms that you feel need to have a best bet and you then need to identify a specific target (perhaps multiple targets) for those search terms.
This model offers some advantages such as specificity in the results and the ability to actively determine what search terms have a best bet that will show.
This model also offers some disadvantages, the primary one (in my mind) being that they must be managed – you must have a means to identify which terms should have best bets and which targets those terms should show as a best bet. This implies some kind of manual management, which, in resource-constrained environments, can be a challenge. As noted in my previous article, others have provided insight about how they have implemented and how they manage best bets.
Now having responsibility for a search solution requiring manual management of best bets, we’ve faced the same questions of governance and management and I thought I would share the governance model we’ve adopted. I did review many of the previous writings on this to help shape these, so thanks to those who have written before on the topic!
Our governance model is largely based on trying to provide a framework for consistency and usability of our best bets. We need some way to ensure we do not spend inordinate time on managing requests while also ensuring that we can identify new, valuable search terms and targets for best bets.
Without further ado, here is an overview of the governance we are using:
The one interesting experience we’ve had so far with this governance model is that we get a lot of push back from site publishers who want to provide a lengthy laundry list of terms for their site, even when 75% of that list is never used (or at least in a twelve month period we’ll sometimes check). They seem convinced that there is value in setting up best bets for terms even when you can show that there is none. We are currently making changes in the way we manage best bets and also in how we can use these desirable terms to enhance the organic results directly. More on that later.
There you have our current governance model. Not too fancy or complicated and still not ideal, but it’s working for us and we recognize that it’s a work in progress.
Now that I have the “monkey off my back” in terms of getting a new post published, I plan to re-start regular writing. Check back soon for more on search, content management and taxonomy!
The title of this post – “People know where to find that, though!” is a very common phrase I hear as the search analyst and the primary search advocate at my company. Another version would be, “Why would someone expect to find that in our enterprise search?”
Why do I hear this so often? I assume that many organizations, like my own, have many custom web applications available on their intranet and even their public site. It is because of that prevalence, combined with a lack of communication between the Business and the Application team, that I hear these phrases so often.
I have (unfortunately!) lost count of the number of times a new web-based application goes into production without anyone even considering the findability of the application and its content (data) within the context of our enterprise search.
Typically, the conversation seems to go something like this:
What did we completely miss in this discussion? Well, no one in the above process (unfortunately) has explicitly asked the question, “Does the content (data) in this site need to be exposed via our enterprise search?” Nor has anyone even asked the more basic question, “Should someone be able to find this application [the "home page" of the application in the context of a web application] via the enterprise search?”
I’ve seen this scenario play out many, many times in just the last few years here. What often happens next depends on the application but includes many of the following symptoms:
The overall effect is likely that the application does not work well with the enterprise search, or possibly that the application is that the application does not hold up to the pressure of the crawler hitting its pages much faster than anticipated (so I end up having to configure the crawler to avoid the application) and ending with yet another set of content that’s basically invisible in search.
Bringing this back around to the title – the response I often get when inquiring about a newly released application is something like, “People will know how to find that content – it’s in this application! Why would this need to be in the enterprise search?”
When I then ask, “Well, how do people know that they even need to navigate to or look in this application?” I’ll get a (virtual) shuffling of feet and shoulder shrugs.
All because of a perpetual lack of asking a few basic questions during a requirements gather stage of a project or (another way to look at it) lack of standards or policies which have “teeth” about the design and development of web application. The unfortunate thing is that, in my experience, if you ask the questions early, it’s typically on the scale of a few hours of a developer’s time to make the application work at least reasonably well with any crawler-based search engine. Unfortunately, because I often don’t find out about an application until after it’s in production, it then becomes a significant obstacle to get any changes made like this.
I’ll write more in a future post about the standards I have worked to establish (which are making some headway into adoption, finally!) to avoid this.
Edit: I’ve now posted the standards as mentioned above – you can find them in my post Standards to Improve Findability in Enterprise Applications.