Still Haven't Found What You're Looking For? Focus Less on Searchability and More on Findability
Anything is searchable.
The key to success is making it findable. And while X may no longer mark the spot, understanding what markers work -- and the routes people prefer to get there -- is the true pot of gold.
Search is easy. You can search for anything -- content, images, the Lost City of Gold, Atlantis... and, depending upon whether or not it exists, you'll likely have a 100 per cent success rate in finding it. It all depends on how much time, effort, and resources you're willing to invest.
Findability. Now that's the tough part.
Making something findable takes understanding, experience, and skill. It also requires the ability to subjugate the ego and understand that not everyone thinks the way you do. Nor do they search or navigate exactly the way you want. So what can you do?
Everybody Has Different Straight Lines
If we've learned anything from popular culture -- whether it's the map to the long-lost fortune of One-Eyed Willy or Dora the Explorer -- some people just don't go for what you think is the "direct route." Some prefer to explore the longest and most circuitous route involving any number of hoops to jump through (and dangers to traverse).
This isn't new. Back in the late 90s leading a team at LookSmart Canada (back in the day when the powers that be naively thought we could manually categorize and review the Internet), we spent a lot of time focusing on search. And it was very clear that not everyone thinks the same way -- some people like to navigate through a site; others prefer search. Some want a direct reference; others want to explore a path.
Even the inputs vary -- some use a keyboard, others use their thumbs, and many prefer to preface their questions with "OK, Google" or "Siri?" The way to your content must work for all.
Now, this doesn't mean you have to be all things to all people. One of the biggest factors behind unwieldy navigation structures is the desire to chase the exceptions. Sure, a couple of people may look for a specific (or obscure) term, but you're going to want to dedicate the majority of your resources to the majority of your users. And to do that you need to know what they want.
Understand the Lingo
The best way to make your content easy for someone to find is to use terminology that's familiar to the person searching for it.
First, let me start by saying I hate the term findability. I'm not a fan of "mash-em-up" English, but I'm also aware that, despite its affront to linguistics, it's a common term that people are using to find exactly what I'm talking about.
So the English major in me can grumble ruefully; the guy whose job it is to help people with their content in me has to embrace the ideal. And if I can do it, so can you.
It is a challenge. Business and marketers hang their hat on their brands, so asking them to subjugate their preferred terminology to appeal to the masses.
But I say would you rather be right and have potential customers completely bypass your offering? Or would you rather meet the needs of your customer base and have them find and use your services? If it comes down to a choice between terminology and servicing your customer's needs, I know which hill I'd rather die on, and it's the one that gives me the opportunity to focus on the things that truly matter -- customer satisfaction, service, and long-term relationship building.
Know Your Market
You may have a good idea about your customers and your market. You may have some solid assumptions based on interactions and anecdotal responses. But it really can't hurt to ask so that those assumptions are validated (or, perhaps, invalidated).
Depending on the size and scope of your audience, you could do some surveys, you could run some A/B testing on proposed interfaces, you could test the usability of your proposed solution.
The main thing is to ask. Don't assume.
You can also mind the ol' Google Keyword Planner, you could check out your analytics package to see what's bringing people to your site, and you could check out the competition -- what are they doing? Does it make sense?
Listening is also very, very good. Social channels can provide a wealth of information if you use them properly. Read not just what's being said, but how it's being said. Be familiar with the terminology and the actual language being used, instead of trying to impose your will.
After all, eventually customer might make their way to your offerings through search -- regardless of how difficult it is. But are you confident that they'll invest that much time and effort? Isn't it better to focus on making it easy for people to find you?