The art of findability
Consider for a moment the three base user types:
- Users who know what they’re looking for and know where it is.
- Users who know what they’re looking for and don’t know where it is.
- Users who don’t know what they’re looking for but want to explore.
Number 2 is by far the most common user, and one this post relates to. We are all unique and we all THINK we know where content should live. If you want to test this, watch different users use Google to find the same content.
A society of individuals
We are a society of individuals, and I can bet that your organisation is no different. If I gave 10 users a task to find a specific piece of information, they would all go about it differently:
- some will search for the title of the document,
- some will search for the essence of the document,
- some will try to navigate to it by using the top navigation by visiting sites where the document should reside (according to their own logic),
- some will look for clues in the content on pages where the document could reside, or look for related documents and look in similar areas.
Take for instance, a document named Employee Benefits. Logically, this document would be the only one on the entire system with this name, and it should live in your HR area.
Now think of a document called Batman (I’m choosing this so you can’t make assumptions on where it is stored). Batman is somewhere on the intranet . . . and to complicate things:
- there may be multiple Batman documents
- in multiple areas
- with different content based on what it relates to
- and it may have been authored by multiple departments within your organisation
Batman can be meeting notes, general policies, a press release, etc. Where could it be? Keep in mind that the person who saved the document may also think differently from you, so its actual location may surprise you.
The key to the findability of Batman is not where it is stored, but rather ensuring it will surface in search (via meta tagging), and be accessible in all logical areas (via links).
How can I help my users find what they want?
The example above is not uncommon. The following points provide a foundation on which a good intranet structure is built. These ideas allow users of any types to easily find content and will further adoption of your system.
Provide a structure that makes sense
To your users at least… Your content should reflect how your employees perceive your business (not necessarily how the business is structured). For most companies, a hierarchical structure makes sense, however to others a less predictable structure may be much easier to traverse.
Use content types and metadata
When entering content, that content should be properly tagged with the appropriate type and metadata. Imagine the above example, Batman, with type Policy/Procedure and the following metadata:
- Human Resources
- United Kingdom
For a global company, this metadata allows the correct type of content to be surfaced to the correct people in the correct country and department, and allows users who searched for Batman to refine their search to the few remaining results, making it easy to find their document.
Also consider your content creation policies: you can make some metadata required and others optional to allow users to tag it as granularly as their needs require to make the document easily findable.
Out of box search will do the job, but good search configuration can drastically reduce the time necessary to find content. Search should allow users to:
- find specific content types
- refine results with specific ideas
- limit the search with a date range
Good search also allows users a preview, from which visual cues can help sift through the final few results.
Add links to popular content in all areas where users may look
If users expect an HR document to appear on the homepage of the site, create a link there for easy access. Saving users time ultimately saves the company money by improving productivity.
Store the content in one place, ensure the correct people have access, and provide links to that single document in multiple other areas.
Listen to your users and map their needs to the business needs to ensure both parties are happy.
Identify champions who can help you with this. These are the individuals who will receive more in-depth training and be familiar with the structure, and who can speak on behalf of the people they represent.
Proper information architecture with the correct people ensures content types with the correct metadata are created, and provides a site structure that makes sense to users while providing long-term sustainability and maintainability by your infrastructure team.
Configure your search area to help users easily find content.
Provide additional links to popular content in areas where users may expect to see this content.
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