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Choose the Right One: Follow These 10 Criteria to Evaluate Search Engines

In most organizations, site search effectiveness, or lack thereof, impacts business productivity and the overall bottom line. As the amount of unstructured content continues to grow, companies who are able to make the best use of their intellectual capital will gain a competitive advantage.

According to International Data Group (IDG), unstructured data is growing 62% per year. And Gartner estimates data volume will grow 800% over the next five years with 80% of it residing as unstructured data. These statistics just reemphasize how important it is to get a handle on unstructured data now and to ensure you have a search engine that supports your strategy to do so. 

Whether you are in the process of implementing your first search engine, migrating to a new search engine, or looking to make improvements to your current one, there are a few critical criteria to evaluate in order to understand what search engine best fits your business objectives. The importance of certain features, functionalities, and performance metrics will vary whether you’re looking to improve your internal or external search, depending on your industry, and on what you want users to get out of your site search. 

Here are 10 criteria you can use to evaluate search engines. For a more detailed discussion on each category, you can download our e-book, Top 10 Criteria for Evaluating a Search Engine

  1. criteria to evaluate search enginesCore Technology – What’s the base programming technology? Is it open source or commercial? What are the total licensing costs? What are the skill sets needed? It’s best to understand the answers to these questions up front.  
  2. Scalability – Modern search engines, open source or commercial, often have the ability to scale up to millions and billions of documents. However, scalability isn’t usually out-of-the-box – the more documents you need to store and index, the more sophisticated the configuration needs to be in order to handle high data volumes. Make sure you know if it’s easy or more complex to scale your search engine of choice.  
  3. Connectors – Your search engine should provide the flexibility needed to achieve an optimum performance configuration for your connectors. This way you can maximize your data aggregation, discovery, and analytics potential. It’s important to know what connector types and specific connectors you will need as you’re evaluating your options. 
  4. Content Processing – Content processing is a critical function of a search engine. This process ensures that data from disparate sources plays well together for completeness and relevancy during the search process. Understand the various components of content processing as you evaluate search engines: records merging, taxonomy, entity and data extraction, and data normalization. 
  5. Indexing – Crawls for search engines are essential to indexing content. Scheduling a crawl, either a full or an incremental crawl, is not taken lightly by IT professionals. Some aspects of an indexing task that you should be aware of and evaluate include: speed of indexing, indexing latency, and dynamic fields. 
  6. Query Functionality – The search engine should be able to support and optimize query-based search functions, depending on the types of data, business problems, or customer-facing applications you have. There are some expected and essential functions that you should make sure your search engine has. 
  7. Search Relevancy – Relevancy ranking is the process of sorting the document results so that those documents which are most likely to be relevant to your query are shown at the top. Relevancy depends on consistently testing and improving algorithms. The better your understanding of the user intent, the higher search relevancy you can reach with your search engine.
  8. Security –Where multiple repositories are involved, implementing security can be complex, as the various groups and roles from each repository must be unified into a single schema for filtering out unauthorized results. In many organizations, the most sensitive documents are kept in repositories with particularly complex security regimes. This e-book discusses which capabilities must be built-in or can be integrated seamlessly with your search engine for security purposes. 
  9. User Interface – The user interface (UI) configuration is just as critical as the back-end configuration. You need to have a user-centric, intuitive interface with which users are familiar (think Google search or Amazon site search) and able to conduct search and analysis productively.
  10. Administration, Monitoring, and Maintenance – Requirements for the administrative dashboard and alerting configurations differ between organizations, but are must-haves for most. In addition, updates to new or enhanced versions of search engines could be difficult and error-prone. Many complex search and big data applications also require specialized skill sets to manage, maintain, and improve. Make sure you plan and arrange for support and management.

Most importantly, make sure your in-house IT staff has the bandwidth and skill sets needed to conduct a thorough assessment of the elements and functionalities above. Doing this will ensure your search engine performs as intended.

For more information on how to use these 10 criteria to evaluate search engines effectively, download our free e-book.

- Mark

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