Creating a good way to search company websites might seem like a lot easier task than the job facing, say, Yahoo or Google – which have to cover the entire Internet. But, in fact, companies can often face more difficult search-related problems.
Because companies use myriad customized and specialized software programs, they often find that important content is not in the latest Web format – or any Web format at all – making it hard or impossible for search engines to find it. And in a digital world, where costumers expect the latest information at their fingertips, such shortcomings can translate into lost dollars. For instance, if you’re searching an automaker’s site for information about a braking system, it’s likely to be in an owner’s manual in PDF format – not an HTML page. It might also be in a Help section, or somewhere else. For many corporate search engines, finding the information on the first try is not a sure bet.
Solving this problem – while it’s not as glamorous as participating in the latest Web 2.0 startup – has turned into a burgeoning cottage industry. Baynote, an 18-month-old Cupertino, CA company, is one of the latest in a rash of businesses now applying technology to improve corporate Web searching. Baynote’s solution, a Content Guidance System, which was announced yesterday, gives companies a piece of code, equivalent to a Web cookie, to place on their pages and in their search engine. It’s a small packet with a lot to do: tracking, among other things, what a site’s visitors search, how they move their mouse, what results they click on, and how long they spend looking at pages.
The system then feeds all this information back into an analytics engine hosted by Baynote. This engine then does something clever: it analyzes the data to decide when a search succeeds, and also builds a database of successful (and unsuccessful) searches. Over time, then, people who search on companies that use Baynote are given a list of documents that others have viewed when searching on the same term – along with how many people found it useful.
This technique builds on the concept of tagging, says Baynote CEO Jack Jia, in which people mark Web pages with publicly viewable labels that anyone else can use to search pages. The concept, which has become a cornerstone of popular websites such as Flickr and Delicious (both now owned by Yahoo), is drawing interest from businesses since the search terms are defined by a user community, and thus reflect popular opinion about content, rather than relying on either company librarians or computer-driven algorithms.