August 4, 2006

Applicable Knowledge: Improving Knowledge Base Search Functionality

Maintaining optimum performance of your knowledge base or content management systems search functionality is a critical factor (some might say the critical factor) in its effectiveness and utility. After all, users need to be able to find the content they are looking for quickly and easily, otherwise the system, regardless of how pretty it is or how much content it contains, is a bust and will most likely be abandoned in favor of other options.

Since working at B+P, I find a lot inspiration for branding KM from marketing literature. Strategies that revolve around promoting and/or improving awareness of products/services can often be applied to KM strategies as well.

In the July 10 edition of BtoB (which I picked up in my mail today - hey, I'm a busy boy), there is a nice article on Honing Your SEM Strategy. The article outlines 13 best practices for maximizing organic and paid search efforts.

I've used a couple of these practices (below) in my own efforts to improve the search functionality of knowledge management systems I've worked with and thought others - with a little tweaking towards KM - could be useful as well. Check out the full article to see what else might work for you!

  • Track search terms and access patterns
    Periodically, look at the terms users are searching on and update your search engine accordingly. Pay particular attention to commonly misspelled terms. Also, identify patterns that indicate trends around types of content being accessed. In conjunction with tools used to track content hits/accesses/views, this information can be helpful in proactively capturing and promoting highly desirable content.
  • Use multimedia replays
    Honestly, I've been scratching my head for the last 20 minutes trying to understand how replays can help promote search...period, but I know from experience that they are an extremely effective tool for sharing information. In fact, this same issue of BtoB offered very cool insight on the popularity of b-to-b podcasting, for example, delivering white papers or analyst reports as both documents and multimedia replays. The key: make it interesting! Users want dynamic and provocative, not droning and prosaic. Also, just as a sidenote from yours truly, even though podcasts are hot right now, replays should reflect a variety of formats (e.g., mp3, mpg, wmv, mov, avi, rm). It doesn't have to be ALL of them, just enough to provide maximum coverage.
  • Provide a linked list of the top keyword searches on your site
    Every time I open a browser, my MyYahoo! homepage provides a rotating banner at top of the top searches across a range of interests for the day. This way, I know Paris Hilton was the most searched celebrity and Kanye West was the most searched musical artist. And, in case I give a rat's behind about these people, I can click on the link provided and search them as well. It's gimmicky, but effective. Not only does it provide a quick link to popular information, but it informs users of what information is most popular.
  • Use editorial calendars to predict hot search terms
    Get a jump on keywords and buzz words by looking at major themes being presented in upcoming industry trades (publications). I love this idea because it rocks if your knowledge management system is internal only and it makes you look like a rock star (on the edge and in the know) if your system is also externally accessible.