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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Observations of a New Google Sales Engineer

In November 2013, I  joined Fig Leaf Software after working in the SharePoint space for the last seven years. While I was familiar with search from both my company's own search solution and from Microsoft's acquisition and integration of FAST, I hadn't a chance to do any extensive commercial work with Google Search. I had personally used Google Custom Search and found it to be a useful, albeit limited, free product to allow those with public websites to quickly provide search functionality.

As I was brought on-board primarily as an Enterprise Sales Engineer for Google products, it was necessary to ramp up on all the benefits that the Google Search Appliance (GSA) had to offer organizations looking to improve their enterprise search offering.  

I took a number of online classes offered through Google's Partner University LMS and started coming up to speed on how customers could use their GSAs to provide high quality search experiences for both their internal employees and external customers. Of course, I also started listening on sales calls and product pitches to hear customer use cases and what needs best fit the GSA.

But it really wasn't until I started working on GSA Optimization Checks that things really started to click. As a Google Premier Partner, Fig Leaf Software offers periodic reviews of our customers configurations and use of their Google Search Appliance. This involves an online conference where the customer walks us through how they use search in their organization and shows us their current GSA configuration. This session is recorded and used to produce a detailed Optimization Report that includes recommendations from our experts on how the organization can improve their configuration and make better use of their GSA. This report is provided to our customers at no cost, but simply as a benefit of doing business with us. Satisfied customers are an important part of renewals and expanded business relationships.

In the last couple of months, I've started writing these reports and as a result,  I've noticed a number of similarities in GSA functionality that our customers are not taking full advantage of. I thought it would be useful to share five of them here in the hopes that more GSA customers might make use of them.

User Feedback - So far, I haven't encountered a customer that is providing really sufficient ways for users to provide input into the search process in their organization. This can be anything from something as simple as a link to the search administrator's email in the footer of the results page, up to a feedback form/survey, or even allowing users the capability to add specific search results for certain keywords in a front end.

The Default Collection - It's considered best practice to never modify the default_collection on your GSA so that there is one collection the contains all indexed content. Unusual support incidents have been known to creep into environments where certain items have been added to the Do Not Crawl patterns on the default_collection. We often see customers modifying the default_collection in the GSA configuration unnecessarily.

Results Biasing - If you are going to use a results biasing policy in your environment to affect the relevancy of search results, always create a second biasing policy that keeps the default settings and assign that to a test front end. This can then be used to compare search results side-by-side against the
biasing policy that you implement on your production front end and make sure that the relevancy impact you were looking for is actually occurring.

Search Logs and Reports - Search logs should be regularly (at least once per month) exported to allow retention of historical data. While they can be very large, they can be safely compressed without data loss to quite small sizes. GSA customers can analyze their historical search data, as it can provide unique and valuable insight into user behavior. It can also provide valuable clues as to what would make useful KeyMatches, additions to your Query Expansion list, and even new OneBox modules.

Daily Status Report & Mirroring - while the hardware utilized by Google for the GSA is quite robust and reliable, hardware failures can occur. In addition to ensuring that administrators turn on the Daily Status Report function so that they are notified quickly by email in the event of an issue with the GSA hardware, customers can purchase a second less-expensive "hot backup" license for their GSA. This will allow them to employ mirroring between their search appliances to ensure constant availability to the search system while not adding to their administrative burden.

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