Usability, content, search and analytics on the corporate intranet

Relevanssi WordPress plugin: intranet search comparisons

5 October, 2013 – Luke Oatham

As part of the forthcoming iteration of the GovIntranet WordPress theme, I’ve been testing search results. I compared search results on 2 client intranets, each using their own content, but different search implementations:

Both intranets use bespoke WordPress themes with the Relevanssi search plugin. Intranet A has some custom code to integrate documents into search results.

So, fasten your seatbelts for a bumper ride through 21 of my top intranet search queries, typical of any government departmental intranet. Screenshots show page 1 of the search results for the two different intranets. I’ve anonymised the results where appropriate.

1. Book a meeting room

Grab that room while it’s still vacant. The room booking facility is a top ranker for office-based staff. Or is it?

Intranet A: book a meeting room

Intranet A: book a meeting room

Intranet B: book a meeting room

Intranet B: book a meeting room

2. Eye test

One of my personal favourites. You fill out a form, send it to HR. They send you a voucher. You take it to the optician when you get your annual eye test. All paid for by Her Majesty’s ever-so generous Government.

Intranet A: eye test

Intranet A: eye test

Intranet B: eye test - goes direct to required page

Intranet B: eye test – goes direct to required page

3. Maternity leave

You’re pregnant. You’ve got a lot to think about and plan for. Wouldn’t it be nice if your intranet gave you the facts straight?

Intranet A: maternity leave

Intranet A: maternity leave

Intranet B: maternity leave

Intranet B: maternity leave

4. Guidelines on blogging

For review, before you boldy put finger to keyboard.
Intranet A: guidelines on blogging

Intranet A: guidelines on blogging

Intranet B: guidelines on blogging

Intranet B: guidelines on blogging

5. Replace my building pass

You went for that *just one drink* after work and you arrive at the office the next day knowing you’re in the shit.

Intranet A: replace my building pass

Intranet A: replace my building pass

Intranet B: replace my building pass

Intranet B: replace my building pass

6. Claim expenses

You’ve been for that glorious, 3-night stay in Sunningdale.
Intranet A: claim expenses

Intranet A: claim expenses

Intranet B: claim expenses

Intranet B: claim expenses

7. GPC

For those of you who don’t work in government or who don’t speak acronym, this is the Government Procurement Card. A credit card for the responsible people with a grand spending power. To be fair, it’s an acronym that is commonly used.
Intranet A: gpc

Intranet A: gpc

Intranet B: gpc

Intranet B: gpc

8. Rail tickets

Online booking please; it’s digital by default!
Intranet A: rail tickets

Intranet A: rail tickets

Intranet B: rail tickets

Intranet B: rail tickets

9. Induction for new staff

A must-have for every intranet. How do you welcome your new joiners?
Intranet A: induction for new staff

Intranet A: induction for new staff

Intranet B: induction for new staff

Intranet B: induction for new staff

10. Gifts and hospitality

Yup, even that bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream you got at Christmas from the agency you worked with, you gotta declare it.

Intranet A: gifts and hospitality

Intranet A: gifts and hospitality

Intranet B: gifts and hospitality

Intranet B: gifts and hospitality

11. Voicemail

How to setup your friendly recording to play to your beloved colleagues when you can’t be arsed to pick up.
Intranet A: voicemail

Intranet A: voicemail

Intranet B: voicemail

Intranet B: voicemail

12. Box times

Is this something to do with the diet coke advert? No, it’s the deadline for submitting something to a minister before they slope off for a nice Sancerre.
Intranet A: box times

Intranet A: box times

Intranet B: box times

Intranet B: box times

13. Wisleblowing

How good does your search engine deal with typos?
Intranet A: wisleblowing

Intranet A: wisleblowing

Intranet B: wisleblowing

Intranet B: wisleblowing

14. Written Ministerial Statements

Terribly exciting stuff, I know. Such is the life of a Civil Servant.
Intranet A: written ministerial statements

Intranet A: written ministerial statements

Intranet B: written ministerial statements

Intranet B: written ministerial statements

15. Risk register

For your Queen of Prince II or your agile scrum master, who’ll need to be armed with one of these.
Intranet A: risk register

Intranet A: risk register

Intranet B: risk register

Intranet B: risk register

16. Translate into Welsh

Intranet A: translate into welsh

Intranet A: translate into welsh

Intranet B: translate into welsh - goes direct to required page

Intranet B: translate into welsh – goes direct to required page

17. Whistleblowing

For those moments when you just have to do the right thing.
Intranet A: whistleblowing

Intranet A: whistleblowing

Intranet B: whisteblowing - goes direct to required page

Intranet B: whisteblowing – goes direct to required page

18. Payslip

The intranet, filled with topics closest to your heart.
Intranet A: payslip

Intranet A: payslip

Intranet B: payslip

Intranet B: payslip

19. Season ticket loan

Can’t stand queuing for your ticket at the station? Get an annual ticket and pay it off in 10 easy monthly payday deductions.
Intranet A: season ticket loan

Intranet A: season ticket loan

Intranet B: season ticket loan

Intranet B: season ticket loan

20. T&S

Because we all need a little T&S.
Intranet A: t&s
Intranet A: t&s
Intranet B: t&s

Intranet B: t&s

21. Lunch menu

A guy walks into a restaurant and says to the waiter, “Can I see what you had on your menu three weeks ago?”
Intranet A: lunch menu

Intranet A: lunch menu

Intranet B: lunch menu

Intranet B: lunch menu

Analysis

So which intranet performed best and why? And how could we make improvements?

Content quality

There is only so much that a search engine can do. The quality of search results largely depends on the quality of the content. Garbage in, garbage out. The quality of the content on intranet B shines through in the search results. Pages are written in plain English using active language. Page titles are concise.

Documents in search results

In Intranet A, we see a profusion of documents in the results, often containing hyphens and dot docs and brackets and dates. Staff will find these hard to sift through because the sheer number of documents returned tends to cloud the search results.

In 2002, I decided to turn off documents in search results on the London Underground intranet, subscribing to the belief that if a document is important enough then there will be an HTML page that mentions it. Search results improved dramatically.

The number of results returned

A basic usability rule is that less choice improves efficiency. So it follows that fewer entries in the search results page will make it easier and faster for staff to make a choice. Few people will go past page 1.

Intranet A: 548 total results, 6 out of 20 searches with just one page of results

Intranet B: 195 total results, 16 out of 20 searches with just one page of results

Direct hits

Even better than less choice is not having to make a choice at all. For those searches that produce a single result, Intranet B will take staff direct to the page in question, skipping the search results page. Skipping the time taken to scan a search results page, make a choice and click. Intranet A has 18 results for an eye test. Just how many pages do you need on your intranet about getting an eye test? Just one.

Social content

Intranet A includes social content generated by staff in forums and crowdsourcing areas.

Intranet B only includes core intranet pages by default. For social content, staff need to search from within the forums.

While there is no question that social, staff-generated content is good for all sorts of reasons, including it in search results by default can cloud the results. In the examples above, on Intranet A, it would appear that searching for any financial information returns a post about a sports day event, consistently in first position.

I still believe that there is a definite line between corporate, official content and social, staff-generated content. And that each has its uses.

Context and design

Intranet A uses breadcrumbs to give context to the search result title. While this can be useful, it becomes a problem when the page title refers to an item 9 levels down in the structured navigation.

Intranet A shows no clear date information telling you when the page was updated and there is no snippet text to help give you the scent of what you’ll get if you click.

Intranet B shows the type of content, category and contextual information where appropriate. Date information varies upon the type of content, so for example, we’ll show the last modified date for tasks but the first published date for news stories.

Content housekeeping

It’s really up to content publishers to make sure that old information isn’t left lying around. Regular housekeeping and clear procedures can help to keep search results free from useless information. So if you publish a lunch menu each week, why not keep the URL the same so that staff can bookmark the page and always return to it? Why publish multiple versions of the document with different URLs and include them all in search results when they become redundant?

Configuration

While I would say that content is the main area that you can use to improve search results, there is a fair bit that you can do behind the scenes to configure how the search engine works. Do you promote more recent content? Do you provide synonyms for words? What about search suggestions on typos or demoting old news stories? How does using an AND search compare to using an OR search?

Advanced search and filtering

Nice to note that neither intranet uses advanced search or filtering. In my experience of user testing, such options only add confusion. It is rare that you’ll get a member of staff wanting to do complex searches. The majority don’t need it, and including it only serves to provide yet more choice.

Conclusion

A budget search solution combined with tip-top content can produce very good search results, making it faster to find guidance and information and making staff more productive.

How do your top searches perform?

Related blogposts

2 responses to “Relevanssi WordPress plugin: intranet search comparisons”

  1. Lily Dart says:

    Hiya Luke

    I’ve only just found this post but there is some great advice here.

    I ran this article past the site maintainer for Intranet A because the results you’ve shown above were very unexpected. He mentioned that there was an experiment around the time you wrote this post to change Relevanssi from relevance ordering to date ordering instead. It was reverted shortly after. As you’ve noted above, the results were almost useless!

    This is a notable (but unfortunately not well-known) downside of WordPress. The built-in search functionality is date ordered, not relevance ordered, and it is very poor for that reason.

    I re-ran the first 6 or 7 searches you’ve shown for Intranet A and they all rank as the first result now the Relevanssi settings have been reverted.

    We use also Relevanssi on most of our sites to improve the core WordPress search, and it really is a great plugin. As you’ve noted it doesn’t do all of the work for you, and appropriate content and information architecture is still very important.

    There are some other features of Relevanssi that our clients really appreciate:

    – It produces a list of terms that are used most across the site so that you can easily identify if search results for those terms might be confusing
    – It maintains a catalog of terms that users are searching for, helping maintainers and developers to identify priority content
    – It has the ability to selectively include WordPress custom fields in the search index. These fields are often used as secondary content fields for various common features in WordPress themes, but the default WordPress search doesn’t search inside them. This can mean that with the default search large chunks of your content may not be searchable.

  2. […] Relevanssi WordPress plugin: intranet search comparisons […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Tags

WordPress