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The problem with tagging, Jia says, is that most people simply don’t do it. And when users do, they rarely go back to update those tags. Baynote’s approach is to treat the search terms as tags, then allow others to see what searches have been successful and for how many people. Its Content Guidance System is currently being used by eight customers, including LSI Logic, Interwoven, and Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International (SEMI), a semiconductor industry association. It’s offered as a hosted Web application (with subscriptions ranging from $95 to $950 a month).

SEMI, which represents more than 2,100 manufacturers of semiconductor-related equipment, has used Baynote for about six weeks, as an enhancement to Alta Vista, the search engine it uses on its website. Jonathan Davis, SEMI vice president of marketing and communications, says the difference is noticeable: people who searched on “Semicon West,” for example, an event that SEMI organizes, used to get an abstract from the 2004 Semicon West as the first link, perhaps because it has the phrase “Semicon West” in it more frequently. Since introducing Baynote, though, the same search pulls up not only this year’s page, but also the registration page, since it’s currently the most sought-after one.

Baynote offers its clients a variety of ways to present information, including guides to what’s popular and what terms others have used after their first search attempt. For its corporate customers, it also generates reports that provide information on common search terms that always fail and where visitors with similar interests go when they’re on the company’s site. Some of Baynote’s technology is its own, but it’s partnered with IBM for full-text search and with Omniture for Web analytics (Omniture and Baynote share a venture investor in Hummer Winblad).

Baynote enters a market with plenty of other options, though. Companies such as Endeca Technologies, Fast Search & Transfer ASA, and Mondosoft A/S have developed methods to improve corporate search, both on company websites and internal corporate Web portals. But Dan Keldsen, an analyst with the Delphi Group in Boston, says these firms tend to focus on either enhancing the navigation aspect or the search aspect, rather than on both. In addition, he says, Baynote’s application “is clever – the search gets smarter as people use it. It’s a fairly novel approach, and there is an indirect kind of wisdom-of-crowds effect.”

Jia points out that Baynote is as much a search-engine enhancer as a pure search tool. He also says there’s plenty of room to improve business searching, citing a study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project showing that 83 percent of all general searches end in failure, and another from Atlas Research that says more than half of Internet users decide not to carry out common actions, such as filling out a registration form, downloading a white paper, or making a purchase, if it takes three clicks or more to find what they want.

While those studies were based largely on consumer search engines, if they’re at all similar to what businesses experience, this new cottage industry may thrive.

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