Google’s search engine parses through millions of web pages and still delivers amazing search results.
Still, even Google’s search algorithm has its limits. With more and more web content available every day, you can see why Google offered additional filters to help you narrow your search results. For example, if you’re looking for pictures of pumpkins, you can type “pumpkins” in the search field and click Images. Alternatively, if you’re interested in the latest books about Thanksgiving, you can search for that term and click Books.
Companies, such as Dell, have used this technique—called faceted search—for some time. For example, on Dell’s web site you can search for a laptop or desktop computer. Alternatively, you can use the filters to help you search by product category, processor, screen size, weight, and so on.
For users, this provides a lot of benefits including the ability to be much more specific when looking for certain types of content.
Faceted Search and Technical Communication
There has not been a lot of discussion about faceted search and technical communication. I believe that if your help system is large (for example, more than 500 topics), a faceted search could help your users search by topic type (such as troubleshooting content, procedures, and conceptual material), training vs. technical communication content, HTML versus PDF guides, and so on.
There are, however, a few problems with using faceted search with the current Help Authoring Tools.
First, most Help Authoring Tools don’t offer faceted search. So unless you’re using a tool that does offer the functionality, you won’t be able to provide it to your users. It’s worth mentioning that MadCap Flare does offer a form of faceted search in its product.
Second, in my experience, the search in Help Authoring Tools isn’t great. For many years, Google’s search engine has set the standard for finding content online. In contrast, the out-of-the box search found in a Help Authoring Tool is mediocre.
Third, I find it’s hard to customize the search engine in a Help Authoring Tool. RoboHelp’s search does allow you to tweak content but the last time I looked into it, the search engine is largely a black box that isn’t meant to be significantly customized.
What do you think? Would faceted search help your users? Should it be it available in all Help Authoring Tools?