In the tech world there are times when you just need help fast. Most of the problems you're having have been had (and have been solved) by others. But taking the time to parse through thousands of posts to find the one that solves your problem can be a real pain.
Wouldn't it be nice if someone could come up with a system that could organize the solutions to all your problems and build an intuitive front-end that gave you quick and easy access -- from any connected device?
Learning from Online Retailers
If you've done very much shopping online, you may have felt, at times, like you were shopping for a needle in a haystack. To enable Internet shoppers to easily find the needle they are searching for -- the product or information that they want -- many sites are using a secret sauce called "faceted search".
The Power of Faceted Search
Customers searching retail sites use faceted searches to cut the proverbial haystack down to just a few straws, to easily find exactly the item they want. Using filters the user selects, faceted searches automatically winnow content into categories to narrow the field of products and services that are displayed.
Providing a well-designed faceted search capability is beneficial not only for users of retail sites. It is also enormously helpful for users who are members of Web communities, who might have to search through thousands of forum threads and blog posts to find the one piece of information they need.
But before we examine how faceted searches work in a web community, first consider how shoe retailer Zappos successfully uses faceted search to make shoe shopping less overwhelming.
Using Faceted Search on Zappos
Think of how many shoe brands, styles, and colors exist. Now imagine shoe shopping online without a search capability that whittles down your options.
Zappos avoids this frustrating scenario by using a faceted search that features two ways customers can find their desired products. They can use the search bar (red circle) if they already have an idea of the product they want, or they can browse the various categories (yellow circle) shown in Figure 1. For example, if you use the search bar to look for "men's running shoes," every product containing that phrase, or words from the phrase, will appear.
You can see from Figure 2 that there are over a thousand different products generated from the phrase "men's running shoes" (red circle), including clothing, shoes, and bags. But since you want shoes, you can select that filter in the "product type" section (yellow circle).
In Figure 3, you can see how different filters appear that specifically relate to shoes: size, width, performance, and so on. If you select the size 12 (red circle), medium width (yellow circle), running (green circle), and white filters (blue circle), your results go from over a thousand to 41. The more filters you select, the narrower your options become—making the search less overwhelming.
Zappos illustrates how easy faceted searches make finding a specific product amongst thousands of choices. Now imagine applying this powerful tool to your web community.
Using Faceted Searches on a Web Community
You can integrate a faceted search into your community to help users easily find innovative ideas, solutions, or blog posts. Let's take a look at the Norton Community page to see how users can easily navigate a web community using a faceted search.
Let's say you remembered reading an interesting blog post about the Heartbleed bug but couldn't remember the title or author.
You would probably first enter the phrase "heartbleed bug" in the search bar shown in Figure 4. But notice that the search created 4,688 (red circle) results, making it extremely difficult to find the right post. However, you can use the filters on the right to narrow the amount of posts. Because you remember the content type (yellow circle), you can select the "Blog Post" filter. Although you don't remember the author, you remember the date the blog was posted (green circle), so you can select that filter also.
As you can see in Figure 5, once you have selected these filters (red circle), the results narrow down to only eight blog posts, making it significantly easier to find the right one.
Managing Faceted Searches is Easy
Not only will users love your community's faceted search, your site administrator will too because faceted searches require minimal maintenance.
Before users can publish a forum post, they are required to provide certain information. As shown in Figure 6, a user has to enter a title, select a forum and specify if they need a solution (red circle). Below the text, the user can optionally enter "Labels," which are similar to tags (yellow circle). Once the user provides the required information and publishes the post, it is indexed accordingly. All of the other information, such as author, date, language, and so on, is automatically indexed into filters. As a result, the site administrator's work is simplified.
Because faceted searches are easy to manage and provide users with an optimal search experience, you should consider integrating one into your web community. Fostering customer loyalty is a significant benefit of web communities. If you Provide customers with the capability to easily find solutions to problems and other information, they are more likely to return to your company for additional products and services.