“Best Bets” functionality for search systems

On IA Play, Karen discusses the need for "Best Bet" search recommendations 8 years after working on such as system at the BBC. While search vendors may have improved towards providing better relevancy ranking and disambiguation, search is still imperfect, and synonym rings and taxonomy often provide better direction for users' imperfect information seeking behaviors. Karen provides these recommendations when considering Best Bets.

  1. If the system you are buying doesn’t come with a built in Best Bets system, see if you can get a simple one added on.Think of it as safety net for once all the developers and project managers have packed up and left you to your own devices.
  2. Put them at the top of the search results. If you feel the need to style them differently then keep the styling as minimal as possible
  3. Don’t get carried away and make sure you maintain those links!

I've designed UIs with search recommendations driven by taxonomies and thesauri for digital libraries. Discreet bodies of information, e.g. databases with subject classification or product databases, tend to fair particularly well when using best bets. But the clear warning here is that there is a human factor relying on subject matter expertise to make them work.