Lost in Search: why are media sites’ search engines so poor?

I have many persistant gripes; one of the most persistant is the inability of many media websites to have effective search engines.

This is something I have been meaning to post about for ages. What has actually prompted me to do so was searching for a story in yesterday’s The Guardian weekend magazine. It was an interesting story, and I wanted to share it through Twitter (potentially increasing the readers of the story and the website). Naturally enough, my first stop was the paper’s website, where I entered the subject of the story into the box marked search and pressed return. The site’s search engine found seven pages full of references to the subject, but what I was looking for was not on the first page, so rather than scroll through page after page of the wrong information, I tried again.

This time, I entered the subject and the article’s headline. I got two pages of search results – easier to skim through – but none of them was the article I was looking for.

Lastly I went to an external search engine. You know, the one that has something like 60% of the market share in search last year. OK, Google. I typed in the subject and the headline. And the article I wanted was the first item that Google returned.

So whilst the Grauniad failed to find its own article at all, Google not only found it but made it the top match for my search term.

It is not just the Grauniad; I have had very similar experiences searching the Independent and BBC News websites. Google can find articles on these websites that their own search engines cannot.

I was chatting to someone from the BBC about this a while ago. He said that perhaps it is because these organisations are not specialists in search – they are content providers rather than search engines. This is true, but if their own search system cannot locate their own content, promoting users to go to, say, Google – which could just easily send them to someone else’s website – then this represents a huge risk to their business. Especially when media firms are planning to charge for online content.

[Edit (a week or so later…): The Independent must have been listening: they’ve changed their search engine to Google.

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One thought on “Lost in Search: why are media sites’ search engines so poor?

  1. Francesca

    Sheesh. Try websites for large organisations (both public and private sector). Type in a person’s name, and rather than getting their contact details or role, you will invariably find thirty-four thousand links to minutes of meetings from 2002 that they attended.

    Reply

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