Found: search tools that really work

Corporate websites with huge search boxes are trendy.

US conglomerate General Electric's new home page has one. So does the new global site from Italian energy group Eni. Web teams at numerous other companies have told us that they’re thinking of following suit.

Such moves are brave, because corporate websites’ internal search engines are, traditionally, rubbish.

Indeed, for many companies' sites, visitors are better off using Google to find material than the internal search engine. Ironically, this also applies to Google’s own corporate web presence.

But there are some noble exceptions to the substandard-search rule. Here are some:

KPMG

Given the bountiful material available on this Big Four auditor's web estate, users need a powerful search tool – and that is exactly what the firm has delivered on its new global corporate website.

Predictive search terms appear intuitively in an overlay panel for many searches. And the tool remembers the last three searches carried out - these too are presented in the overlay panel, for ease of reference.

Search results are clear and meaningful. Dates are included on timely content, such as reports and corporate announcements, which helps users to quickly gauge relevance.

An excellent array of filtering options is provided to help users home in on relevant results, including tabs for selecting the type of content (Insights, Events, People), sorting options (by date, relevance or popularity) and an extensive set of left-hand topic filters designed to allow people to reach deep into the company's troves of articles and reports to find items that are specifically useful.

The 'People' filter is a good innovation. Search for 'Advisory' and 406 people are found. It appears that KPMG has essentially opened up its internal employee directory - at least where its public-facing employees are concerned - adding a valuable new dimension to the search function and making it easier for customers, journalists and industry professionals to find and contact relevant people inside the company.

Most importantly, the search function appears to have good accuracy: it returned good or excellent results in almost all of our latest tests.

Microsoft

This technology giant continues to have a spectacularly fragmented web estate. But its powerful, cleanly presented search engine helps users to find material scattered across the firm's crazy patchwork of microsites.

Results pages are logically laid out. Anchor links in the left column allow visitors to jump quickly to specific types of results, which are neatly grouped under clear headings.

What's more, corporate material search is seamlessly integrated into Microsoft’s consumer search: the main search engine is as comfortable finding careers and media information as it is music, apps and games (elegant, though I'm not sure how useful a combined search for music tracks and corporate content really is in practice).

Inspiration elsewhere

Other companies’ search tools shine in some areas.

Danish shipping group Maersk's internal search function is well designed and potentially very powerful - a good source of inspiration for any web manager researching ideas for improving their own search tool (look, for example, at the filter panel presentation and the tags to the right of search results in the the screenshot below).

 

The search results pages on both Eni.com and GE.com also provide web managers with plenty of new ideas for designing filters and grouping results in visually clear and elegant ways (see the screenshots below).

US media conglomerate Comcast’s search filters, and its tabbed separation of ‘web’ and ‘image’ search results, are neat.

 

Semiconductor maker Texas Instruments’ product, technical documents and support search and filter tools are very useful - though visitors searching for corporate materials will find no filters catering for them.

Perhaps this is because Texas Instruments puts all its time and money into getting its product-related search tools right, as that's where they think the money is. And perhaps that line of thinking is partly why so many purely corporate website search tools are so poor compared to their e-commerce counterparts. 

- Scott Payton


 

And the winners are ...

The all new Bowen Craggs Index of Online Excellence is out, and you can see the results on our website. In brief, Nestlé is way out ahead - it was second last year but has held its score while others around it - notably Shell - have had somewhat stumbly relaunches. Bayer is second, Eni third. 

To see the full results, see the interactive table on our site. It can be reconfigured so you can see who is doing best in each of our eight metrics.

If you are lucky enough to subscribe to our database, you can see a lot more detail, though as we have been feeding the new material into the database for months, you probably know about it already.

Constant updating is one of many important changes we have made. The underlying developments have been in the database, but the Index has changed as a result: most notably, we now look at the 200 biggest companies in the world, more than twice as many as before, so the pool of best practice is much deeper. The Index is also a brilliant way of attracting much-deserved praise to the teams that are doing the most fabulous jobs. Forbes has already helped, us, with this piece just published.

The most obvious superficial change is the new name. The Index is no longer linked to the Financial Times. We had an excellent eight-year run with the FT, as the FT Bowen Craggs Index of Corporate Website Effectiveness, but it's the right time to go it alone. We are after all always being told by the online comms world that our Index is the gold standard.

A subtler shift in the name is that we now say 'online' instead of 'web'. That is to reflect the increasing importance of social media and other channels. We have included them in our analysis ever since they first appeared, but as we note in our overview piece they have finally (belatedly) become a core part of the corporate communications effort. 

To learn all about the Index, see these pages on our site

Intro and guide to our coverage

An overview piece about the main trends (by me)

Interactive results table

Lessons from the top three

New entrants (We look at a much bigger pool than before, so some companies have never featured)

FAQ and Methodology

All the underlying analysis is available to database subscribers. Learn more about that here.