Web Support Blog

January 27, 2007

Outsource systems, so you can put more focus on innovation

Filed under: General, Search, Web Analytics — Chris @ 10:51 pm

In an article by Jon Brodkin of NetworkWorld.com, he discusses a recent comment from Google’s Dave Girouard on how “insane” it is that companies spend 75% to 80% of their budget maintaining, instead of innovating. If you consider a company like Google, or even Amazon.com and eBay, they used innovative technologies to drive their businesses. So why don’t others learn from that?

In my current organization, we have solved some of this issue through outsourcing, while other systems have issues because there are too many owners for different parts within our organization. First let me share two short examples of successful outsourcing – a web analytics tool and a customer survey tool.

We use Omniture’s SiteCatalyst as our tool of choice to perform web analytics. Omniture takes care of the data collection and management – an area that has been a problem in organizations that I have been a part of in the past. In my last organization, log files needed to be joined from the various proxy servers and made available to a WebTrends installation. Occasionally the IT organization would change something in the proxy servers, and we might lose a day or two of data (until the problem was found and resolved).

Of course we are not completely free of responsibility with SiteCatalyst. We are responsible to tag our web pages, which then communicate web activity back to the Omniture environment. If we should make a mistake in our tagging, or forget to add tags to a new web page, then we would miss that data. The other thing we do is send additional data, via a batch load, to Omniture that further classifies our data. For example, the page tag will send a product id, then through the batch load, we will send a product name, which makes it much easier when creating and viewing reports.

The other outsourced example, our survey tool, is similar to Omniture SiteCatalyst, as the vendor manages the data for us. In both cases, we free up resources that would otherwise have to manage the data and the servers that host it. Of course in both cases, there are times where we want to join that data with data from other systems. Depending on the complexity, we can either load data into the vendor system, or extract it from the vendor system to ours. We typically would only do that for ad-hoc data analysis, as routine reporting has the required data transfers automated.

So that’s the good news. But when it comes to search, it is quite the opposite. First, you could outsource your search engine, your entire web site, or perhaps just the knowledge management portion. For example, RightNow Technologies provides the knowledge base infrastructure for companies such as IBM, Nvidia, and RealNetworks.

In my organization, and in many others, search itself takes many different specialized skills to make it work.

  1. Managing the network and security access
  2. Maintaining the OS on the servers
  3. Maintaining the search application, including indexing, and its custom code
  4. Develop and maintaining the user interface, including passing the appropriate data to the engine
  5. Develop and manage the ontology and dictionary rules
  6. Content maintenance (e.g. have the appropriate meta tags)

If we were to outsource, we could have someone else worry about the first three (1 – 3), but the last three (4 – 6) will always require people from our organization (4 could be outsourced, if we outsourced the web site development and maintenance). The missing element on the list is someone to have oversight; someone to keep all the various parties in contact with each other. The same resource would also be required if you outsource, though again the first three would be replaced my managing a vendor relationship.

So whether we are talking about outsourcing security, as Mr. Brodkin mentions in his article, or applications within your environment, your company can free up resources for innovation, while paying experts to maintain a system for you.

October 15, 2006

When to Focus on Findability (Instead of Content)

Filed under: General, Search — Chris @ 12:06 pm

Recently I heard someone say that content is king – and I agree. But he said content is king, and that is where you should focus the majority of your attention on your site. To take that at face value would be a mistake. If you do not have any content on your site, of course you need to establish a process for creating and publishing content – a topic all on its own. The point I want to make today is that no matter how much content you have, if you cannot find your content, you might as well have not invested the resource to create it.

Take this a step further – you can focus your resources to develop high quality content, which can be expensive, and yet if your customers are not finding the content, you will have invested precious resources on developing content that no one is using. Consider your success rate for users ability to find your content – if it is 50% of the time, then one of every two content items will be found.

Here is how I look at this. Of all your content, how many have been viewed within the last month (or quarter). Do not confuse this with your success rate – if you had 100 content items, with 50% success, yet only 20 items were viewed, you potentially have an 80% findability (search or browse) failure. Of course since you only missed 50% of the time, your problem is no more than 50% — the rest is unnecessary content.

I will break this down further. Begin with this question: how many of the failed 50% could have been solved with the 80% that were not viewed? Assuming another 30 content items could have solved problems, then you have a 60% failure (and a 50% of unnecessary content). Therefore only 40% of your content is being found.

Findability1

Realistically you probably do not have all the answers for all of your customer needs. So assuming you could solve another 25% of your customer queries if your customers could find the content; and assume it took another 10 content items, then you would only have a 30% failure (10/30), with 70% of your content being waste.

Findability2

So we can see that putting the majority of our focus on content is not always the right approach. Instead, figure out how successful you site is doing with findability, and use it to drive your investment. With this new information, there are some strategies for dealing with this. Typically if you do a good job with findability, you can maintain that with minimal effort, so once you address these issues (search and browse), you can put most of your effort on content.

Perhaps you do not have the skills to address your findability issues, well… due to findability being more of a one-time effort (and then monitor for issues), you can conceivably outsource much of the work. This is especially true for search. There are many folks that can do great on site design and architecture, and you may already have one of them on staff, but search is a completely different issue.

In future posts, I will talk more specifically about search, and recommended approaches. For now if you look for outside help, here are some issues to explore: 1) keyword vs. natural language search (hint: Google uses keyword); 2) tagging vs. no tagging: balance resources for tagging vs. performance without tags.

October 11, 2006

Content Effectiveness and Functionalism: Update and Misc.

Filed under: Content Effectiveness, General, Web Analytics — Chris @ 4:43 am

Since I posted my whitepaper on Content Effectiveness and Functionalism, I have been working through the next steps: applying. In doing so, I discovered that I may not have always applied the right terms in some cases. The good news is, with Functionalism, the terms are not the important part, it is the methodology. So I have updated the paper with a slight variation to a few of the terms, but the KPIs did not change. If you go to the original post, you will get the update version, or you can get it here.

As I said, they key to Functionalism is the methodology, not the terms. In evaluating your site, whether you are focusing on content effectiveness like me, or another aspect, consider the purpose of each page in your site. A common method to use is a funnel and a fallout report. When you examine your fallout report, what actions do you take? Well if you used Functionalism, you would have KPIs for the page where you lost your users, and therefore you would have some idea as to where the page was failing.

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On a completely different subject, this weekend I posted on my other blog two keyboard shortcut guides. There is one guide for Windows XP Keyboard Shortcuts and the other is for Firefox Keyboard Shortcuts. The guides can be printed double-sided and folded in three (tri-fold), and they make a handy desk reference until you learn the shortcuts. Follow the links above to get your own copy or go to my blog Skimming the Cream Off the Top.

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