I read with much interest a discussion in LinkedIn among members of the Intranet Professionals group. The discussion revolved around a question posed by Luc de Ruijter:
What are the 3 main reasons users cannot find the content they were looking for on the intranet?
The answers pointed to factors in the intranet technology and design, users’ attitudes and practices, and choices made by those who manage it. Based on the answers given, I found three areas stood out as being key to making information easier to find in an intranet.
3 Ways To Make Information Easier to Find
1. Structure the information in the way users think
Karen Glynn pointed out that data is “being structured in ways that employees don’t understand.” An example is organizing information by departments or by processes. If information is organized by departments, users first need to know who does what in the organization. If by processes, users must be aware of such processes and understand them. These approaches tend to create information silos, with little permeability between them.
Information structure should reflect the way employees would naturally tend to look for information. Sometimes, this calls for a department-oriented approach, sometimes it requires a different taxonomy. This is why early in the intranet deployment process, it’s crucial to test the intranet structure and get feedback from users.
2. Use a common vocabulary
Sometimes the intranet manager and others involved in setting up the intranet use different titles and acronyms than the users are familiar with. Or, different users may favor different vocabularies. Intranet managers may have to spend time to collect and organize those vocabularies into a company glossary.
Related to this, it’s a good idea to agree on a naming convention for documents shared on the intranet. For example, Bob Meier says, “If you’ve branded the expense report system with some unintuitive name (e.g., a vendor name like Concur) then I’ll scan right past a link looking for ‘expense reports’ or some variation.”
3. Encourage and enable users to use metadata
Metadata, such as keywords and descriptions, make information easier to find in the intranet, in the same way they help Google and other search engines make sense of web content. Unfortunately, as Patrik Bergman says, using metadata may not come naturally to intranet users, so training may be necessary.
Plus, metadata requires standardization as well, so it must be linked to the company glossary. Luc added that the intranet software can be used to “force” the use of standard metadata.
These are only some of the ways information search and retrieval can be improved in an intranet. The discussion had many other points that are useful, including the optimal location for the search bar (is yours in the wrong place?).