Many organizations have experimented with a number of search engines for their enterprise content. When the search engine is deployed within the bounds of a specific content domain (e.g. a QuickPlace site) the user can assume that the content being searched is within that site. However, an organization’s intranet portal with a free-standing search box comes with a different expectation. Most people assume that search will find content anywhere in the implied domain, and for most of us we believe that all content belonging to that domain (e. g. a company) is searchable.

I find it surprising how many public Web sites for media organizations (publishers) don’t appear to have their site search engines pointing to all the sub-sites indicated in site maps. I know from my experience at client sites that the same is often true for enterprise searching. The reasons are numerous and diverse, commentary for another entry. However, one simple notation under or beside the search box can clarify expectations. A simple link to a “list of searchable content” will underscore the caveat or at least tip the searcher that the content is bounded in some way.

When users in an organization come to expect that they will not find, through their intranet, what they are seeking but know to exist somewhere in the enterprise, they become cynical and distrustful. Having a successful intranet portal is all about building trust and confidence that the search tool really works or “does the job.” Once that trust is broken, new attempts to change the attitudes by deploying a new search engine, increasing the license to include more content, or doing better tuning to return more reliable results is not going to change minds without a lot of communication work to explain the change. I know that the average employee believes that all the content in the organization should be brought together in some form of federated search but now know it isn’t. The result is that they confine themselves to embedded search within specific applications and ignore any option to “search the entire intranet.”

It would be great to see comments from readers who have changed a Web site search experience from a bad scene to one with a positive traffic gain with better search results. Let us know how you did it so we can all learn.