Guide for intranet users: How to make a page findable

On an open, social intranet employees empowered to publish need to know how to make a page that is easy to find using the site’s search engine.

No matter how good your search engine is, it won’t magically bring up un-clearly named, un-tagged and poorly written content.  So on an intranet with an open publishing model it’s important to provide employees with a guide to creating pages and files that are easy to find.

The following tips and ideas are based on my company’s use of ThoughtFarmer social intranet software.  But most of these concepts apply to any modern social intranet that allows any employee to add content.

Think “findability,” not “search!”

We want to make sure that the content we produce is easily found by people who are looking for it.  This isn’t about search so much as about findability.  We’re not trying to make it easier for people to search for our content; what we really want is for them to FIND it!  A person doesn’t think “I want to go searching for something.”  Instead they think “I want to find this one very specific thing.” So let’s talk about creating pages and files that are easy to find.

Findability is about the searcher’s recognition & keywords

For someone to easily find a page she is looking for, she must be able to recognize it when she sees it and she must be able to find it using the search terms that make sense to her.  Making a page findable is about putting yourself in the shoes of the future searcher.

The three tactics below explain how to make that happen.

Three tactics to ensure findability: Title, tags, summary

1: Clear, descriptive title

“Summary_EFedits_07-09.docx” is not a good file nameWhat is it a summary of?  Who is “EF”? Is that July 9th, September 7th, or July, 2009? If someone sees this file in search results how will she know if it is the one she is looking for?  A good file or page title stands on its own.  It has all the information someone needs to recognize the page and understand the content therein.  Imagine a searcher seeing your page listed in search results: Will she know it is the right page?

Include the following types of terms to build strong page & file titles

  • Dates – write full month & year:  If the date is important to the page title, then write the full month & year.  Searchers will be able to find the page by searching for either the full month or the month abbreviation and they will easily recognize the date.
  • Topic:  What is the core topic of the page?
  • Content type:  Meeting agenda?  Report?  Memo?  Presentation?  Program Implementation Plan?
  • Team:  If this is in reference to a specific team, such as meeting notes, include the name of the team or at least an abbreviation.
  • Event type:  Is the page content about a meeting?  A team retreat?  A press conference?

2: Tags that include search keywords & keyword synonyms

The search engine indexes the title, tags and text on a page.  To be easily found, your page must include somewhere on it all the terms people might use to search for the page.  By adding tags you can easily supplement the page title and text with potential search keywords.

How to come up with good tags:  Ask yourself “what words might someone use to search for this page in a month from now?

Add as many tags as you can think of and be sure to include synonyms.  For example, for the page titled “US Paid Holidays” we included tags for “holidays,” “time off,” “calendar,” “schedule,” “vacation,” etc.

3: Summary text to explain content

Screenshot of search results from a ThoughtFarmer intranet

Especially helpful for files!

Summary sentence at page top:  At the top of the page write a one or two sentence explanation about the page or the attached file.  Our intranet search results display the first few hundred characters of a page along with the page title.  Readers will see your clear summary in the search results which will further help them understand the content on your page and recognize whether or not it is what they are looking for.

This is particularly important for attached files because it takes greater effort to download and open files than to open a page.  By writing a short, clear explanation of the file you make it easier for people to sort through search results.

To summarize:  When you create a page or upload a file on your social intranet, think about the future searcher who will be looking for your content for a very specific reason.  Investing a few minutes today can make life easier for you and your colleagues for as long as your page or file lives on the intranet.