How to Improve Your Search Engine: Unlocking Basic Features

By Jeff Lawrence, Delivery Director View Comments


Understanding the basics of an effective search strategy is key to unlocking your search engine’s potential, improving customer satisfaction, and increasing ROI. It’s so important to build an utterly simple and helpful search user interface. If you make your customers work to find what they’re looking for, the user experience will suffer and they'll most often look elsewhere.

If you simply turned on your new search tool out of the box, you're probably only getting modest results. Most modern search tools include a number of overlooked options that are not pre-configured or require additional set up to work effectively. Here are three steps to help you figure out if your search engine is living up to its potential.

How can you tell if your search engine is doing a good job?

  1. Start by looking at the server and search logs to determine what customers are searching for and if they were successful in finding those items. Are there items your customers are searching for, but can’t find? Are your customers getting frustrated and dropping off? Keep in mind customers will typically only search once, maybe twice, before moving to another site to find what they are looking for. You want to make sure customers can easily navigate your site, or risk losing their business.

  2. Now, look at your search interface. It must be utterly simple to use and should include some hand-holding features for users. For example, if customers have a typo in their search term, features like “Did You Mean?” may help quickly locate what they are looking for. Another aid feature is the use of synonyms. If your customer searches for a “blue blouse,” your search engine should also return items that are “azure, cobalt, navy, sapphire, cerulean or indigo” and also “shirt, chemise, and top.”

  3. Take a look at the features and functionality offered by your existing search tool. Are you fully leveraging them all? There are most likely ways to improve your search efficiency by leveraging the built-in features of your existing tool. Popularity biasing is a simple way to use the information customers are providing you to help other customers find what they want. By leveraging the search logs to determine what customers are searching for and finding, content in the search index can be boosted in rank for a particular search term if it has been explicitly selected for a search in the past. And you can even use this information to helpfully suggest items the customers might be interested in. For example, “customers that look at this page also looked at these pages.”

Here are the common features offered by most search tools:



Fielded search

Search on a value(s) in one or many specific fields or parameters.

Search within a search

Search within the search to allow our customers to refine their initial search.


Synonyms associate alternate terms that have the same meaning such as Blue, which would also include: “Azure, Cobalt, Navy, Sapphire, Cerulean or Indigo”

Stemming and Term Expression

Stemming reduces the words "fishing", "fished", "fish", and "fisher" to the root word, "fish". It also works the opposite direction taking the string “fish” to return “fisherman”, “fishing” and "fished".

Stop Words

Removes stop words from the query (e.g., “a”, “the”) so they are not part of the search. Must be able to add, modify and delete stop words list while system is running without the need to re-index.

More Like This

Provide a link that returns results that include similar assets based on relativity of the metadata.

Did you mean?

When searching a custom dictionary, a thesaurus would be used to suggest other possible search terms “Did you mean:” This is especially useful when typos occur or searching for complex or unusual names.

Relevant Searching

After you search for an item, as you pick a result, there should be a separate area that will search on "Like" items.

Facetted Filtering

Results must include facetted filtering options based on metadata within search results to allow for quickly filtering down results.

Query Term-based Rules

Business rules for term or terms that trigger spotlighting of search results i.e., when a specified term is used it would trigger a ranking event to move content to the top of the results.


Ability to artificially influence relevancy score based on business rules i.e. published assets might have a relevancy “boost” field that increases the ranking of that asset.

Static Ranking

Ability to elevate a specific result into the search results at a specific position based on a user’s search.

Statistical relevancy

Results are ranked based on statistical analyses such as term frequency–inverse document frequency (TF-IDF), keyword biasing

Natural Biasing

Rules that bias the ranking results based on natural or intuitive affinities in the content, for example, distance the term appears from the beginning of the document, or favoring later dates over earlier dates and higher currency values over lower currency values. Must be able to turn these on or off while system is running without need to re-index.

Popularity biasing

Content in the index can be boosted in rank for a particular search term if it has been explicitly selected for a search on the term in the past.

Field weighting

Individual fields or parameters can be weighted so that results appearing in some fields are more relevant for the document than others (for example, in HTML data, a term found in the TITLE tag generally means more than if it is found in the BODY tag). Must be able to change these while system is running without need to re-index.

If your search is not effective, then fix it by leveraging the built-in features of your search tool. And if your search tool doesn’t have the features you need, then it may be time to replace it.

Building an effective and easy-to-use search takes a deep understanding of your content, clearly defined business goals and a lot of hard work. But you know your content better than anyone, so go out there and help your customer find what they are looking for!

Posted in: Enterprise Search, Web Design & Development, Digital Asset Management