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Overhaul your site search engine

I’m old enough to remember when fathers and sons thought nothing of overhauling their own car engines—back before cars became little IT shops that need specialized equipment to repair. As a certified girly-man, I cringe at even the thought of overhauling an engine, but I do know how to overhaul your site search engine. (You won’t even get dirt under your fingernails.)


Search engines are complicated, which means that one size does not fit all. You need to be ready to customize the way your search engine operates so that it best fits your business and your customers.
Each search engine provides different dials to turn and levers to pull, but here are some of the most important:

  • Default Boolean operator. We’ll forgive you if your first reaction is, “What the heck is a default Boolean operator?” Don’t be intimidated by the terminology—the name refers to how the search engine treats multi-word queries. If a searchers enters digital cameras, does the search engine look for pages containing both “digital” AND “cameras”? Or pages containing either “digital” OR “cameras”? It’s your search facility, so you get to decide. Defaulting to AND usually provides more precise results, but also more “not founds.”
  • Rank-factor boosting. Search engines use myriad factors to rank search results. When it’s your site search engine, those factors are under your control. Don’t be afraid to tweak the weighting of your ranking factors and test the results. Most site search facilities benefit from customizing ranking factors for improved relevance.
  • Linguistic and synonym dictionaries. To improve recall, you can request that your search engine expand its matching to include linguistic variants and synonyms of the keywords the searcher uses. Sometimes this kind of expansion can produce spurious results, but you can customize the dictionaries so that only the most helpful related terms are used.
  • Country and language filters. If your Web site sells to people of multiple countries or languages, you need to ensure that your search results are limited to the country/language combination they expect. Your conversion rates will skyrocket if you properly filter the right country results for the right person.

Expect your search engine to need some customization to provide optimal results. Now you at least know the basics to pay attention to.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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