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Digital Transformation

Horizontal vs Vertical Portal: Search

You may be interested in the other parts of this series:

  1. Kickoff
  2. UI
  3. Integration


Search lately has become very important to almost every single portal client.  Most users still complain about how bad the existing search is. They complain about it’s counter-intuitiveness.  They complain about how you can’t find anything. Really what they are saying is that they want search to be as good as your internet searches.  Here’s the thing, internal search may never be as good as internet searches.   You can’t use the same algorithms to determine what’s relevant and what’s not.

That’s not to say that you can’t make search better.  Relatively recent improvements on the consumer side of search has introduced some great possibilities for your company search.  Think of:

  • Tag based search: tags or keywords can become the missing ingredient in your bad internal search today.  The good news is that it’s not just the people who create the content who can tag content.
  • Faceted search: This is the idea that you do a search and the left navigation area breaks down your content.  You have images, you have documents, you have items related to operations, you have items that are press releases, etc.  Instead of having to deal with 50,000 results in .017 seconds. You have those results but broken down. It’s easier for you to drill down.
  • Using search to automatically get you to maps, etc: Google, Bing, and others have done fantastic things in figuring out what you want to do when you type in a search term.   No longer do you just get a list of possible results.  You may automatically get a map or a dictionary definition.  The same possibilities exist for your .com or intranet site.

Vertical Portals and Search

Vertical Portal vendors have a challenge. Their main reason for being in business is to provide a portal for a specific niche.  That could be healthcare, automotive, etc.  Almost all of their innovation focuses on that niche. They can ill afford to spend development cycles making the best search ever. In most cases, the best they can do is to hook up a full text search and call it good.

Depending on how configurable they made their product, it may be hard to use a third party search engine like Google Search Appliance, Endeca, Omnifind, or FAST and crawl their site.  In other words, you probably should’t expect search to be fantastic for a vertical portal.  You shouldn’t expect it to be all that easy to overcome that deficit.

That’s not all bad.  If you are filling a niche, then search may not be that important.  If you are surfacing data or allowing key transactions to occur, you can make the case that a good site design and well thought out UI are more important.  As always, it gets back to defining what’s most important to your company before comparing vendors.

Horizontal Portals and Search

Horizontal portal vendors typically have more R&D dollars.  They can put more money into making search better.  Think of all three big commercial vendors.  Microsoft has FAST. IBM has Omnifind.  Oracle now has Endeca.  All are really good search engines in their own right.  They work inside and outside of the portal.  They have their own development budget.  They come pre-integrated to their portals.

Here’s the rub, all of these search engines don’t automatically come with the portal.  Microsoft give you their standard search. IBM gives you a simple web based search engine. Oracle gives you Oracle search.   Each of these search can be called OK.  However, if you want great, be prepared to spend some more money.  They good news is that you can also go with third party search engine like Google Search Appliance.  These portals are also fairly well known and connectors will already exist or they are easy to create.

I ranked horizontal portals a light green rather than a dark green because you need to upgrade the search engine to get great.

Combined Portals and Search

Remember, combined portals are niche portals built on a horizontal foundation.  That means they have the same potential as a standalone horizontal portal. Of course, you are probably asking why I ranked it a neutral color.  While the potential is there, a  lot depends on how the vertical vendor implemented the portal and whether they chose to make use of the tools in the horizontal portal.  I’ve seen too many people use a portal and then not use the services provided by the portal to just automatically believe that it will work well.  That’s why I ranked it neutral.  The capability is there as long as it was implemented correctly.


Bottom Line

As I noted before, a lot of this depends on your stated and prioritized needs.  If search is important to you then you should be looking at horizontal portals or combined portals.


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Michael Porter

Mike Porter leads the Strategic Advisors team for Perficient. He has more than 21 years of experience helping organizations with technology and digital transformation, specifically around solving business problems related to CRM and data.

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