Common Search Mistakes - Outdated Data in the Index

Agnes Molnar

by Agnes Molnar on 10/23/2014

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Article Details

Date Revised:

Applies to:
common mistake, content freshness, crawling, Findability, Search

The story

A couple of weeks ago I had to submit a tax form. This might sound easy: you download the form, fill in, e-sign, and then send to the Tax Authority online.

I went to the website of the Tax Authority, and though the easiest way to get the form is to search for it. As I knew the ID of the form, this seemed to be very easy, too: I entered the form ID to the Search box, and got several results. Clicked on the first one, filled in, signed and sent in. Mission completed.

At least, I thought so.

But the response I got was not was I'd expected: it was an error message, saying it's an outdated form, and I should use the current one for 2014. Checked it, and really, it was a form from last year, 2013.

Ok, went back to the very same Search form on the website. Entered the very same form ID. Checked the first result - it was really the one from last year, 2013. But when I checked all the other results, I realized: NONE of them was valid in the current year, 2014!

In the end, I had to figure out how to navigate to the proper form, but it took a while. Their navigation is at least as bad as the content freshness in their Search.

Mistakes identified

The story above is very common, and the mistakes can be identified quite easily:

First and foremost, the index is outdated. The tax form I was looking for has been valid since 1 January. The mistake is: it still was not in the index in mid-September!

Second, the site is supposed to have good content freshness: users expect the latest, current version of everything on the top of the result set. Tax forms. Cafeteria menu. Company journal. On-boarding documents. - People don't care for the old content. They need the latest one; it's simple like this.


The good news is: fixing the mistakes above is quite easy.

First, you have to make sure your content gets to the index. The tax form I needed has been valid since the beginning of the year, but it still was not available as a Search result in mid-September! Which means a VERY old index. Which makes Search useless. Nobody (or at least, almost nobody) needs the forms from last year. When people want to submit something, they need the latest, valid form. That's it.

Second, even if we decide to present the old, outdated content as well, the latest one has to be on the top of the result set. Maybe even as a Promoted Result. People usually don't need the tax forms from the previous years. They are not interested in the cafeteria menu from last month or even last week. They don't pay attention to the old company journals. You get the point.

Have you ever experienced getting old content in Search results? Would you mind sharing your story? What did you need? What did you get? How were you able to "work around" the poor experience?

Topic: Search

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