Usability, content, search and analytics on the corporate intranet

Intranet documents are not Russian dolls

18 July, 2011 – Luke Oatham

Embedding and interlinking documents within other documents on the intranet creates a doll-inside-a-doll effect making it difficult for people to find the information that they want.

Documents are a necessary part of our intranet. They come in many shapes and sizes including policy documents, forms for downloading and printing, forms for completing on-screen, calculators and ready-reckoners, letter templates, corporate reports, graphs and statistics, catalogues and presentations. Treated correctly, they provide a rich and useful set of tools and information for staff.

Aside from the usual SEO issues, we have 3 main problems with the documents that people try to publish on the intranet:

  • embedding a document within a document
  • linking from a document to another document
  • using documents instead of HTML pages

the worst situation being a combination of them all. I have seen, for example, a Word document contained within another Word document (which should have been an HTML page), containing a hyperlink back to yet another document on the intranet. When people do this, they create a whole array of problems.

No analytics tracking

As soon as you leave the intranet and enter the world of Microsoft Office documents you lose the ability to track analytics. You’ll only see the clicks from the intranet to the first document. Clicks from within documents to other documents won’t be recorded (if you’re using javascript tracking) and clicks to documents within documents is even asking too much of server logs to track. Without this data, you can’t accurately evaluate what is happening on the intranet.

No navigation structure

When you enter the world of docs you lose the intranet navigation. The back button is no more. You don’t know where you “are” in the intranet. If publishers start to create another mini intranet of documents, interlinked and embedded within each other, then there is no intranet navigation and no structure.

Not included in search results

I wonder if it’s even possible to create a Russian doll effect with more than one layer of documents. The thought makes me cringe. But how would the search engine treat this? If I search for something in a document buried layers deep in another document, what would happen? The search engine follows URLs. Documents within documents don’t have URLs. As with analytics tracking, functionality stops after you enter the world of docs.

No related/serendipitous/social information

There’s no right-hand column in every document containing automated links to other related information on the intranet. No chance to stumble upon something new and interesting, or share it socially.

No browsing

I have seen main intranet sections that consist of one or two HTML pages and many documents. When you try to find something and the only choice you have is to click and wait for a document to open then you kind of lose momentum. Hopefully it’s the document that you wanted and you found it easily. But if you then have to go further in your search the experience becomes cumbersome. You’ve stopped surfing and have hung up your wet-suit for a pair of tough wellies as you find yourself knee high in intranet gloop.

Pages are a better starting place

We all like well-designed pages that you can scoot around. Documents should be accessible from such intranet pages (including the search engine) and not left to form a sub-system by themselves.

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