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


 

Noises off – the making of corporate content

‘Mitt’ is a documentary on Netflix that takes viewers behind the scenes of Mitt Romney’s unsuccessful attempts to win the US presidency in 2008 and 2012. Romney, whose stiff and patrician demeanour was one of the reasons voters never warmed to him, is filmed doing things you never normally get to see during the years-long slog of an American presidential campaign: in prayer with his family (he always tried to publicly downplay his Mormon roots); swaggering backstage about a good debate performance; and flagellating himself after a bad one. We even witness the moment on election night when he knows he’s lost and has to put on a brave face for his family and staff.

It’s compelling, as well told ‘fly on the wall’ style stories always are. It turns out Mitt is not so stiff after all – surprise, he is a human being. His reputation rose after the documentary was released.

Going ‘behind the scenes’ can be just as compelling in a corporate context, as more (brave?) digital managers appear to recognize. The slick veneer of corporate-speak is ripe for puncturing, and readers (eg, jobseekers) will thank you for it; but share too much reality or the wrong kind and your company’s reputation (and your career) might never recover. There is a reason Romney was happy to let the cameras roll, but (likely) only agreed to release the film long after he thought his political career was over.

The best corporate ‘behind the scenes’ features we’ve seen subvert the low expectations of corporate content – that it will be dull, ‘on-message’, false – and provide a more true-to-life view, while stopping short of letting Michael Moore follow the CEO around with a film camera.

French luxury goods conglomerate LVMH, for example, has a number of ‘in situ’ videos on its corporate website, inviting visitors to ‘take a glimpse at the daily lives of our employees’ - grape harvesting, a press team meeting, a morning briefing in a department store cosmetics department.   

Highly professional and unique (the absence of narration is one striking feature) they give candidates a good feel for the exciting parts of the job (filming a promotion) and the mundane (addressing envelopes for posting).

Blackstone, the US private equity and investment banking firm, has a link to ‘Mondays at Blackstone’, on its home page. The video is more conventional than the in situ features at LVMH. There is narration in text form and an abundance of talking heads, but the concept is based on a behind the scenes look at the company’s Monday morning meetings, where bankers come together to set the agenda and challenge each other about deals and investments.

The meeting could be seen as inspiring (or frightening) depending on your point of view, but as a candidate, you can watch and decide whether you can see yourself sitting around the giant boardroom table in New York on a Monday.

It is effective, but the idea could have been pushed further – jobseekers might have benefitted from letting more of the meeting footage play out. This is the interesting bit, the bankers talking to camera less so.

Maersk, the Danish logistics giant, gives us a fly-on-the-wall view of a disaster-preparedness training seminar for employees. Like at Blackstone, talking heads dominate, but the film – using documentary editing techniques – shows some tense moments and the kind of arguments that happen under crisis pressure (and employees when they are less guarded).

Not all ‘behind the scenes’ content is video. My colleague Mali Perdeaux recently wrote here about a blog on the Victoria and Albert Museum website, which gives a backstage perspective on life running a museum.

‘Making of’ features are a variation on the theme. Private investors get the VIP treatment from Air Liquide on its website, with a highlights video from a photo shoot for ‘Portraits of shareholders’.

Total, the French oil company, set up a microsite to describe how its global advertising campaign was conceived, designed and launched.

So far I have not seen many of these done badly. Maybe that is because they are unique enough to have fairly big budgets (meaning the best people will work on them), and close scrutiny – no matter how ‘real’ a film seems, there has been meticulous editing to make it seem that way. As they become more widespread, perhaps standards will slip (and that is when the reputational risk will rise).

Most companies are a lot more interesting than their corporate websites let on. The less time people have to spend reading between the lines, the more they might warm to you. Just ask Mitt.

- Jason Sumner