The Psychology of Search — How Can Search Transform Negative Emotions into Positive?
Not all searches are created equal. Many times, negative emotions drive people to use search: frustration because of a lost credit card; feeling under pressure because of an upcoming deadline; etc.
If the relevant information is not easy to find, the search experience becomes frustrating and this will influence the attitude towards future searches.
Search strengthens these negative emotions if it doesn’t work correctly. For example, if your credit card is lost or stolen, you want to find information on how to report the incident to the bank as soon as possible, to prevent someone from stealing your money. However, if the information is not promptly available, you end up wasting a lot of time and you get increasingly upset.
Or in the workplace, if you cannot find that perfect chart for your C-suite presentation due in less than two hours’ time, what are you going to do?
As a consultant, I often hear the same feedback about enterprise search: the results are not good enough and end users tend to have negative expectations. This often causes users to disengage from the search.
However, when search applications are implemented correctly, they can help to eliminate these negative emotions. If you find the information you need, you instantly feel better. Moreover, if the information is presented in a way that makes sense and you can instantly take the action that you need, it’s already a win.
Of course, one generic search cannot answer all of these challenges. This is why knowing your users’ and customers’ needs is a must — and then develop the proper search applications.
Enterprise Search: Do You Know What Users Are Looking For?
When it comes to internet search for products, services or answers, the starting point is the user’s intent. As a user, you expect to find relevant results that meet your needs and, the more specific your search question, the better the answers.
In enterprise search, employees need to be able to find relevant information (contracts, templates, graphics, etc.) quickly, but they may get frustrated if search results are inadequate.
Understanding how people search for information and how they behave when they see the search results can help organizations plan their content management. Unlike online searches for consumer products crawling millions of external sites, enterprise search relies on good quality in-house data and indexing, which means that users must take an active role when organizing and tagging content.
Corporate information may be stored in silos or may be inaccessible because there is either no metadata attached to it, or the indexing is incorrect.
The key to make information available and findable is to invest in both technology and people.
Put yourself in your end users’ shoes: what information do they need at work? How are you going to index the information? How are you going to present the search results?
Think about the aim of the search: search has to help staff members complete their tasks in a shorter time and make their job more efficient.
A by-product of a successful search strategy is better collaboration across departments, as more people will start be better at organizing and tagging the information they require in the future.
This should all tie in with the company’s overall business objectives.
Users may complain that enterprise search systems are not intuitive and that they often need to go on training courses to understand how they work. Retaining all the information learned during training courses is also a challenge, and users may fall back into old ways of approaching data.
The main barrier to user engagement is receiving an error message when performing a search, or seeing a long list of irrelevant results.
A common complaint about SharePoint, for example, is that it brings up all results containing a keyword, by using a default ranking model for relevance. It does a good job at retrieving information but the results are not sorted according to the real relevance. Scrolling through numerous matches is time consuming and users may abort the search before hitting the page where their expected result is displayed.
The expectation is that the search experience in the organization should replicate the search experience of consumer websites.
The truth is, when people save documents while doing their job, they may only think about storing them but not about making them findable later. If you can’t find a document you need, you end up either re-creating it, asking an experienced colleague or simply give up.
Getting People On Board
Getting the wrong information can discourage people from searching. A negative experience may also cause people to tell others and dissuade them from using the system.
The solution is to make users feel more empowered and valued: listen to their feedback and make adjustments accordingly.
The aim is to create a knowledge system that people love to use.
You can learn from B2C shopping sites like Amazon to get users engaged. According to Search Engine Watch, this is the lifecycle of user intent:
In enterprise search, user intent is to find information or learn more about something. Users need to understand that they need to create specific search queries.
Make employees aware that their involvement in the process of building a good search application is important.
Analyse how people interact with the system: is the system responsive? Is the user interface intuitive, easy to use and attractive?
Look at search reports:
- how long does it take until people abort the search,
- what are the most relevant results,
- what is the most clicked content.
Look at how the information is related: for example, when people searched for X, they also searched for Y. You can build different search models according to search behaviors.
What is your user trying to achieve? The goal is to have a positive search experience that delivers the required relevant results in the shortest time possible.
Make small, incremental improvements to the system according to users’ feedback and provide tools that encourage collaboration across teams.
How likely are your employees to actively use your system? New joiners may have less resistance than older employees in using an enterprise search system and instruction manuals can be added to the induction pack.
Originally published at searchexplained.com on 19 October, 2017.