My last blog was in reaction to two recent vendor experiences. One had just briefed me on an enterprise search offering; the other had been ignoring my client’s efforts to get software support, training and respond to bug reports. The second blogged a reaction with a patronizing: “So Lynda should not feel too bad. I know its (sic) frustrating to deal with vendors but not all vendors are the same and she certainly hasn’t tried us all.”

With dozens of vendors offering search tools, it was fair to assume that I haven’t tried them all. However, having used search engines of all types since 1974 both as a researcher and analyst I have a pretty good sense of what’s out there. Having evaluated products for clients, and for embedded use in products I brought to market for over 20 years, it doesn’t take me long with a new product to figure out where the problems are. I also talk to a lot of vendors, search users, and read more reports and evaluations than I can count. The evidence about any one product’s strengths and weaknesses piles up pretty quickly. “Searching” for stuff about search has been my career and I do make it my business to keep score on products.

I’m going to continue to hold my counsel on naming different search tools that I’ve experienced for the time being. Instead, in this blog I’ll focus on keeping buyers informed about search technologies in general. My work as a consultant is about helping specific clients look at the best and most appropriate options for the search problems they are trying to solve and to help guide their selection process. Here is some quick generic guidance on making your first search tool choice:

  • If you have not previously deployed an enterprise search solution in your domain for the corpus of content you plan to search, do not begin with the highest priced licenses. They are often also the most costly and lengthy implementations and it will take many months to know if a solution will work for you over the long haul.
  • Do begin with one or more low cost solutions to learn about search, search product administration, and search engine tuning. This helps you discover what issues and problems are likely to arise, and it will inform you about what to expect (or want) in a more sophisticated solution. You may even discover that a lower cost solution will do just fine for the intended application.
  • Do execute hundreds of searches yourself on a corpus of content with which you are very familiar. You want to learn if you can actually find all the content you know is there, and how the results are returned and displayed.
  • Do have a variety of types of potential searchers test-drive the installed product over a period of time, review the search logs to get a sense of how they approach searching; then debrief them about their experiences, and whether their search expectations were met.

It is highly unlikely that the first enterprise search product you procure will be the best and final choice. Experience will give you a much better handle on the next selection. It is certainly true that not all vendors or products are the same but you need to do serious reality-based evaluations to learn your most important differentiators.