Start Here: Your Guide to Site Search Relevancy

This guide is a curated list of resources to get you started with Search Relevancy. I’ve included articles, books, and video content to help you increase your knowledge about various topics in Search Relevancy.

Everything in this list is something that’s been useful to me. I hope you find it useful, too.

Search Experience

Search Patterns by Peter Morville is a great place to start learning about specific design considerations for search systems. Although a few years old at this point, he covers the basics well and his writing is clear and concise. I also enjoyed his book Ambient Findability but it’s less directly applicable to search relevancy.

Chapter 9 of Information Architecture covers Search Systems and is a good short read.

Another great book to start with is Greg Nudelman’s Designing Search. He has some ecommerce specific content I’ve found useful. Greg has also published interesting articles on Search UX on UX Matters.

As you go deeper into Search Relevancy and Search UX, I highly recommend Tony Russell-Rose’s writing including his book Designing the Search Experience. Tony is a deep and thoughtful search UX expert who blogs at Information Interaction. Highly Recommended!

Tyler Tate summarized much of Designing the Search Experience in his presentation at Lucene Revolution. You can watch a video of his talk on YouTube here.

If you like video content, James Kalbach did a nice course on O’Reilly diving into the nuances of faceted Navigation called Designing for Discovery. You’ll need an O’Reilly subscription to view. He also writes on the topic on his website Experiencing Information.

The Nielsen Norman Group has done good work around ecommerce UX, with some excellent articles on Search UX. They’ve released an entire report on just the topic of Ecommerce Search UX. I’ve learned a ton from their site. You can read Converting Search into Navigation to get a flavor for their work. Faceted Search.

When Search Meets Web Usability is another interesting read with some useful ways of thinking about how users find things with search.

Search Analytics

This is a topic where there are not too many resources. I hope to rectify that with this site. In the meantime, you can read more about the topic of search evaluation in these resources.

If you’re just getting started with search relevancy, check out Search Analytics for Your Site. Although the techniques in this book are simple, they provide a good toe-hold into the practice of search analytics.

Search Analytics is a way of evaluating the performance of your search system. Some aspects of usability testing play a role in supporting Site Search Analytics. I recommend Quantifying the User Experience and Measuring the User Experience to gain a deep understanding of the nuances and complexities of trying to quantify user behaviors.

To get a firm grounding in web analytics, of which site search analytics is a subset, check out Google Analytics Demystified and Web Analytics 2.0.

Technical Resources

I’m including some resources on the technical stack behind search. Be warned that search is a deeply technical subject matter. This section is for software programmers who want to learn more about search engines.

I work mostly with the Apache Solr and Elasticsearch open-source search engines. If you are using either of those search engines or a managed search platform that uses them such as MeasuredSearch or Shopify or any of the major hosted platforms, you may find these resources informative.

First, I highly recommend my colleagues Doug Turnbull and John Berryman’s book Relevant Search. I come back to this book frequently when designing specific relevance strategies for search.

If you’re brand new to Information Retrieval and search engines, here’s a concise introduction that explains some core technical components of search engines, The Art of Searching. Build Your Own Search Engine is another basic introduction to the ideas in every search engine.

If you’re using Solr, Trey Grainger’s Solr in Action is a valuable resource. Although Solr has moved on a few versions it’s still a useful deeper dive into Solr.

I also recommend Elasticsearch in Action which dives deepr into that stack. Although Elasticsearch has great documentation, this is a good book to enhance your understanding of that search engine.

Both Solr and Elasticsearch are built on top of Lucene. Although quite a bit out of date at this point, I still recommend Lucene in Action if you’re curious about the design and implementation of Lucene. You’ll have to reference the Lucene source code to understand where this book is out of date but the core concepts are still relevant.

As a companion to Lucene in Action, check out Doug Cutting’s (creator of Lucene) talk Lucene: Then & Now on YouTube.

The rabbit hole of Search Engines goes very deep. If you’re really, really interested in how these things work, I recommend this free book by some of the godfathers of Information Retrieval, Search Engines Information Retrieval in Practice