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Internet Techniques for Top B2B Portal Usability

A few years ago, Brian Sprague, then a senior executive in Accenture’s customer service and support practice, stated two key requirements for a portal:

  • search engine optimisation (SEO) to help bring customers to a company’s website
  • robust site search to help enable a company’s customers find what they need quickly.

That statement still holds true; now even more than before. The more the Internet gets filled with new content, the more SEO matters.

Search, on the other hand, is no longer that awkward-looking tiny box at the top-right corner of the web page. It has crawled to the very center of portal design and now often serves as the backbone for the whole user interface design.

90% of consumers expect self-service offering

The latter development applies especially to self-service content portals that manufacturers of investment goods, for instance, have set up to their customers to provide operation and maintenance support: product documentation and installation-specific manuals, spare part information, training material and so on.

And self-service portals of businesses are really valued by users: according to a Microsoft study, more than 90% of global consumers now expect a brand or organization to have a self-service offering.

To be useful, a portal needs to provide a good user experience – but this is unfortunately, where many of them fail. A study by Coleman Parkes for Amdocs, for instance, found 40% of customers contacting a call center after looking for answers to their questions via self-service.

A disturbing figure. Let us look at the reasons behind it.

Search is replacing directory trees

We want to make relevant information more easy to find. How can it be done? Let us first look at how we have traditionally managed content.

Be it a web site or a library, directory-tree like structures have served – and often still do – as the usual means for organizing content and providing access to it, in the same way as in a file manager application. From the users’ perspective, they can be challenging in a few ways.

  • The content structure and naming practices must be clear to the users. And what is logical and clear to one user may not be that for another; one solution rarely works for everybody.
  • Users find themselves often hopping between remote sections of the directory. Different use cases are difficult to support: In a directory organized according to, say, content type, information on certain product gets scattered around in many places. A product-based structure makes searches of content of certain type difficult, and so forth.
  • Users often look for just short sections of content, not whole documents. Those short sections may be hard to find or they may even get completely buried, especially in long manuals.

Content access in the Internet way with search

So it looks like traditional portal designs do not serve users the way they should. What alternatives do we have? Well, Internet is everywhere and the most of us use it on a daily basis.

Mind you, the Internet has no high-level directory structure. All content is more or less scattered around on different servers. Search is our key tool for navigating through it.
Interestingly, more and more portals work today very much in the same way as the Internet search engines like Google or Bing. Only, their interfaces and functionality has been tailored to meet the needs of the users in the context they use the portal.

When done well, such designs allow bringing relevant content quickly in the hands of the user by means of:

  • a well-chosen set of pre-defined search filters that can be intuitively activated by ticking the right boxes
  • weighted search result listings that can emphasize content with high importance; say, the latest bulletins on changes in products
  • content previews for quick identification of the relevant content, even if it was just one short sentence buried in a long manual
  • providing one access point to multiple repositories that can be cloud and/or networks drives
  • capability to find structured data (in documents and other files) and unstructured data (in a database).

Better user experience with better search application

Indeed, search has transformed into the very engine many content portals are based on, and the controls of its filters are often the key content of the portal front page. We do believe that the user-friendliness of a portal is best improved by using a good search engine and setting its parameters to support the needs of the users.

Where can one find such a search engine? Here is one definitely worth checking out: Documill Discovery.A few years ago, Brian Sprague, then a senior executive in Accenture’s customer service and support practice, stated two key requirements for a portal:

  • search engine optimisation (SEO) to help bring customers to a company’s website
  • robust site search to help enable a company’s customers find what they need quickly.

That statement still holds true; now even more than before. The more the Internet gets filled with new content, the more SEO matters.

Search, on the other hand, is no longer that awkward-looking tiny box at the top-right corner of the web page. It has crawled to the very center of portal design and now often serves as the backbone for the whole user interface design.

90% of consumers expect self-service offering

The latter development applies especially to self-service content portals that manufacturers of investment goods, for instance, have set up to their customers to provide operation and maintenance support: product documentation and installation-specific manuals, spare part information, training material and so on.

And self-service portals of businesses are really valued by users: according to a Microsoft study, more than 90% of global consumers now expect a brand or organization to have a self-service offering.

To be useful, a portal needs to provide a good user experience – but this is unfortunately, where many of them fail. A study by Coleman Parkes for Amdocs, for instance, found 40% of customers contacting a call center after looking for answers to their questions via self-service.

A disturbing figure. Let us look at the reasons behind it.

Search is replacing directory trees

We want to make relevant information more easy to find. How can it be done? Let us first look at how we have traditionally managed content.

Be it a web site or a library, directory-tree like structures have served – and often still do – as the usual means for organizing content and providing access to it, in the same way as in a file manager application. From the users’ perspective, they can be challenging in a few ways.

  • The content structure and naming practices must be clear to the users. And what is logical and clear to one user may not be that for another; one solution rarely works for everybody.
  • Users find themselves often hopping between remote sections of the directory. Different use cases are difficult to support: In a directory organized according to, say, content type, information on certain product gets scattered around in many places. A product-based structure makes searches of content of certain type difficult, and so forth.
  • Users often look for just short sections of content, not whole documents. Those short sections may be hard to find or they may even get completely buried, especially in long manuals.

Content access in the Internet way with search

So it looks like traditional portal designs do not serve users the way they should. What alternatives do we have? Well, Internet is everywhere and the most of us use it on a daily basis.

Mind you, the Internet has no high-level directory structure. All content is more or less scattered around on different servers. Search is our key tool for navigating through it.
Interestingly, more and more portals work today very much in the same way as the Internet search engines like Google or Bing. Only, their interfaces and functionality has been tailored to meet the needs of the users in the context they use the portal.

When done well, such designs allow bringing relevant content quickly in the hands of the user by means of:

  • a well-chosen set of pre-defined search filters that can be intuitively activated by ticking the right boxes
  • weighted search result listings that can emphasize content with high importance; say, the latest bulletins on changes in products
  • content previews for quick identification of the relevant content, even if it was just one short sentence buried in a long manual
  • providing one access point to multiple repositories that can be cloud and/or networks drives
  • capability to find structured data (in documents and other files) and unstructured data (in a database).

Better user experience with better search application

Indeed, search has transformed into the very engine many content portals are based on, and the controls of its filters are often the key content of the portal front page. We do believe that the user-friendliness of a portal is best improved by using a good search engine and setting its parameters to support the needs of the users.

Where can one find such a search engine? Here is one definitely worth checking out: Documill Discovery.

By | June 14th, 2016|