Last week at our Customer Summit we talked about the business value of search functionality, our vision for search and gave a preview of the next generation of our search platform.
Through the years, few have associated Episerver with search, but as a matter of fact we today are one of Sweden’s largest, if not the largest, supplier of search solutions. Every day we respond to well over 10 million search queries with our platforms Episerver Find and SiteSeeker.
I often get the impression that search is seen as a technology, an infrastructure, when in fact it involves as diverse areas as UX (User Experience), organizational theory, and linguistics. The same applies to the value of search – I would like to connect it to specific business values for each customer.
E-commerce brings the most obvious business value: increased conversion rates and order values. Among our customer are companies like TUI, Dustin and HiFi-klubben. They are using behavioral ranking, a guided search experience and stock levels that affect the order of the products.
For customer service webs the needs are just as big, with benefits both for customer satisfaction and internal savings. We have a very large number of towns and counties as customers. One example is the City of Stockholm ,one of Sweden's largest organization in terms of customer service. They reach their goals by collecting information in one place, by making it easy to grasp and by guiding the visitor to self service functions.
For intranets, it is all about improved internal communication, time savings for employees and leveraging the organisation's consolidated knowledge. Praktikertjänst, the largest private health and dental care company in Sweden, does exactly this when they connect clinic managers all over the country by using personalized feeds and intuitive ways to find colleagues.
Finally, search also has a role to play for pure marketing webs. Gatwick Airport, London’s second largest airport, is a great example of this. The entire user experience is centered around a search-based function to find flights in real time. This function serves dual purposes, both for giving customers a smooth experience arriving or departing from Gatwick, and for strengthening the brand as the airport that go the extra mile.
When we investigate the needs of customers that wish to use search strategically we see three strong areas, which we will focus on going forward.
Connect – to gather content, products or people from several different systems, searchable from one search box. The benefit is a search solution that better answers the visitors’ questions, to a much lower cost than a traditional integration. We call it ”light weight integration”, and we have in several projects seen how simple light weight integrations can reap big benefits.
Automate – we have already taken the first steps to find out what content or products visitors really use with the aid of behavioral technology. We can and will go much further in this area, with the purpose of automatically give recommendations and improve ranking both when searching and when navigating.
Optimize – to help the marketer, the editor or the e-commerce manager to act upon data about what visitors are looking for and how they behave moving through a web site. For a long time, we have had statistics that show this, but we have noticed that many users do not actually use it. Seeing this, we strive to shorten the step from data — ”users who search for ’flashlight’ rarely click through to a product” — to acting upon it — add a synonym from ”flashlight” to ”torch”.
Today, we have two great search solutions with different focus — one that focuses on navigation in large data collections, with nearly instant updates and high scalability, and one that focuses on free text search, with language and behavioral technology and statistics. To build the best solution possible we naturally want to merge these two solutions, and since May we have had an entire team dedicated to precisely this. The project has the internal code name ”Owl”.
In the new platform we will use the scalability, the fast updates and the fluent API for developers from today’s Episerver Find, while we at the same time will bring free text search functionality, language technology, the crawler and indexing pipeline, and the statistics from today’s SiteSeeker.
We will not be satisfied though with just bringing functionality from one platform to the other, we will also improve upon that functionality. During the Customer Summit, Tom Stenius, Product Manager for Search, shared some details about the ongoing work with the new analysis and optimization tool. I think it is very exciting work being done, work that has been centered around our future users. Our UX team has interviewd several customers, both those who use SiteSeeker today and those who do not, and based on the team’s findings, they have created a prototype for a tool for marketers and editors. Below are two mockups from this brand new tool.
The UX team has also evaluated how well SiteSeeker’s optimization tool works compared to the new prototype, and it is very rewarding to see that the new tool, even in this very early stage, performs better than SiteSeeker’s old tool in all aspects.
Finally, Tom showed a few design sketches of the new tool, which I would like to share. Even if they are early sketches, they give a hint of the direction we are taking with the new platform.
When we build a new platform for advanced search needs there is the inevitable question — what happens with today’s solutions and the applications that use them? To answer this question, I find this picture helpful:
Today’s SiteSeeker solutions will continue to function and will be supported as long as we have customers that use them and appreciate them. I think that many SiteSeeker customers will find ”Owl” more modern and easier to use, and for this reason we will create a smooth migration path from SiteSeeker to the new platform.
For customers that are using Episerver Find, there will an option to either continue with the current functionality, i.e. functionality focused on data navigation and browsing, or to take a step up to ”Owl”, which will offer a whole new range of functionality geared towards both search users and editors.
In conclusion, neither SiteSeeker or Episerver Find will disappear, and neither will our dedication to our customers’ needs and their experience — we will continue to deliver the most appreciated search solutions on the market.