One of the topics I spend some time on when delivering enterprise search workshops is helping organisations to identify and understand when you want people to click on a search result versus not.
When someone is seeking interactive help – for example: I want to submit a question to an internal discussion forum – then you want the search results to display that forum as the first link on the page, with enough information for the user to be confident that it is the right forum. I click on the link, enter the forum, post my question and start a conversation. Similarly, when someone is seeking detailed information – for example: I need last year’s budget – you want enough information displayed in the results page for me to be confident that the 10Mb file I am about to download over a flaky Internet connection is the right one.
When someone is seeking a snippet of information – for example: I want to know the telephone number for a customer – then you can improve productivity by displaying enough information in the search results for people to not have to click anything. I don’t need to view a page or open a document about the customer, I just want the telephone number because I need to call them.
This can be done within SharePoint Server 2007 (and it’s sibling Search Server 2008) using managed properties. You can modify the results pages to display additional information by tweaking the XML that determines what and how information is displayed.
Interestingly, Yahoo has made an announcement to enable similar behaviour on their Internet search engine – An open approach to Search. Web site owners can submit data and Yahoo will display their results in a more informative format. Here is the example (‘before’ on the left/’after’ on the right) given on their blog post:
From a user perspective, the ‘after’ is a big improvement. If that’s the restaurant I was looking for, I can see it has some good reviews and I’ve got the telephone number to make a reservation. But I’m not sure the web site owner will agree. That result isn’t from the restaurant itself, it is from a review/directory site. The argument behind search engine optimisation (SEO) is that many people start their Internet journey at a search engine. If you want your web site to be the next destination, then you need to be at the top of the search results. In this example, improving the visual display of search results means that there is no next destination. The search engine becomes the start and end. If you have a web site with a business model dependent on online advertising revenue (dependent on people visiting your site), the search engine just ate your lunch.
Naturally, there is a solution. If you are an intermediary web site, you need the search result to display information that will still bring a visitor to your site or keep you in the loop of the transaction. In this example, perhaps being able to offer a 10% discount on the meal if booked through the review site…