Why organizations are still so bad at findability

Organizations still refuse to invest in findability. And they pay the price in poor customer experience and decreasing loyalty.

Part of the reason why Google is so strong and powerful is not simply because it understands that people like to find stuff quickly. It’s because the vast majority of organizations don’t recognize that it is strategically important to help people find the right stuff quickly. Thus, traditional organizations make it so easy for Google to dominate.

The quality of most organizational search environments is truly shocking. In my experience, there has been little real progress in the last twenty years in making it easier for people to find things on a typical organization’s website. Most organizations massively underinvest in designing quality navigation. They might be willing to buy the latest search engine software but when it comes to investing in the people and training required to make search work, it is either woefully lacking on non-existent.

Year-in, year-out, we show organizations how their customers truly struggle to find stuff on their websites, either by using navigation or search. Often, we will watch people try the site search engine, get terrible results, then go to Google and put in the exact same search phrase, and the correct page appears first.

Showing organizations how Google is vastly better than their own search engine is like telling them that it’s raining outside. There is a sense of fatalism and often indifference. We usually get told: “We know that already” And?

If you know your site search is truly awful, and you know that Google is ten times better, what should you do? Should you leave up your old search engine that you know is delivering a truly awful customer experience? Or should you try to fix it? And if you can’t fix it, what should you do?

Here’s the shocker: When I tell organizations that if they can’t do search properly they should just get rid of it. Point to the Google search engine, integrate it, whatever. “No, we can’t do that,” I get told every time. “We have to have our own search engine.” Why does this warped organizational thinking occur?

Because organizations need to own things and measure things: Search engines, content management systems, content, graphics, videos, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts. Remember the chorus a couple of years ago: “We need an app.” To most organizations, it’s entirely unimportant what the app does—what matters is that you have an app so that you are able to say that you have an app. Because all real organizations have apps and search engines and stuff like that. Why, if we didn’t have that sort of stuff, customers might think we’re not really digital and with it, and cool, and that sort of stuff.

Organizations do not measure customer outcomes like findability. I have yet to come across an organization where findability is a key performance indicator for senior management. Yes, in an age when findability is at the very center of the customer experience, the vast majority of organizations neither measure nor manage findability.

Organizations, please wake up. If content is the oil of the Web, then findability is the petrol / gasoline. Content that is not findable is crude. It sits there with untapped potential. If you don’t have a findability strategy, you don’t have a digital strategy.

4 thoughts on “Why organizations are still so bad at findability

  1. Peter

    Couldn’t agree more, search engines have been overlooked by GC organizations since the beginning of the Internet age. But with millions if not billions of documents in our systems its hard to believe that we still try to manage content with file folders and a really good browse. Perhaps its worth taking the time to look at the new generation of search engines, they are more easily set up, they learn from users and they provide relevant results quickly. A far less costly approach than the daily and time consuming hunt many of us undertake when we need some document or other.

    The cost of a dedicated search team has to be less than the time lost

  2. Kenn

    This post is odd.. The first few paragraphs of your post you are setting up the fact that an issue exists and the consequences of that issue. “Companies buy good Search software, but don’t invest in fostering it. This results in a poor user experience on our site.” I follow, and I agree.

    You then jump to a random knee-jerk solution. “Just put Google in place” without knowing anything about the technology or the other issues that brings. Google doesn’t actually offer the product you are describing. They have cancelled their Site Search product and the free version has far too many caveats to be viable for a real company to use. Your solution is half-baked and not actionable.

    1. Gerry McGovern

      Sorry if I wasn’t clear, Kenn. I didn’t mean the Google Site Search product. I meant to integrate the Google public search engine. See, for example, oecd.org. If Google public search is consistently better than your own site search for the exact same type of searches, then why do you have your own inferior search? Either make your site search better than Google public search or admit defeat and just integrate Google public search into your site. I have never heard a customer say: “I like the fact that they have their own search engine, even though it delivers terrible results.”


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