Searching for stuff is hard

Ewan Main

Product Manager, Mental Health at Work

Helping people to find what they need is really important on a site like this. Let’s be honest, it’s pretty much our one and only purpose! So, a large proportion of the time that went into Mental Health at Work in the early months, before a line of code was written, was about working out what boxes to put things in. We’re pretty pleased with the Start finding resources tool on the front page; it seems to work for most people we’ve tested it with.

But we always thought it was obvious that we’d need a straightforward search box as well. After all, how many of you take time to click through a website’s menu structure and let it guide you towards the right section, when there’s a simple, big search box you can just use instead? (That was a rhetorical question. Based on a lot of user testing, it would seem the answer is about 50%.)

A straightforward search system turns out to be anything but straightforward

Search results for 'stress'Here’s the thing, though: a straightforward search system turns out to be anything but straightforward.

  • It won’t come as a surprise that stress is one of the most frequently-mentioned topics here. It stands to reason that it’ll probably be a frequently-requested subject too. But if you come to our site and search for stress, and we dutifully produce “Yes! Good news! Almost every single one of our resources is about stress!” we haven’t really helped you at all, have we?
  • There are also those resources that are about a specific topic that people don’t always understand. There’s a great article on presenteeism​Presenteeism and the hidden costs of staff who are glued to their seats Web page This news article from the Institute of Directors (IoD), in collaboration with Raconteur, discusses the issue of presenteeism and how it can be managed within an organisation. Free By: Institute of Directors View resource, for example – but surely half of its value is to people who don’t yet recognise that term. What will they be searching for?
  • What about a resource for schools​Supporting staff wellbeing Website Good staff wellbeing is essential in education, and means that staff are better able, in turn, to support their pupils. This page from Mentally Healthy Schools has information, advice and links to quality-assured resources that can help.Free By: Mentally Healthy Schools View resource that was recently unveiled by the Duke of Cambridge, but which doesn’t feature his name anywhere in it? We’d want you to see it mentioned in the news and be able to find it on our site, even if you couldn’t remember anything else about it.

In the end, we’ve adopted a system that’s based on a lot of manual tweaking behind the scenes. Every time we add something new to Mental Health at Work, we can tell the system: “Yes, this is a little bit about anxiety – but that thing over there is much more about anxiety.” Or “This is mainly about mindfulness, but doughnuts do make a guest appearance.” Or “Even though the word octopus doesn’t exist in this resource at all, if somebody typed that into the search then this resource would be a good result for them.”

So, when you type a search query, the list you’ll see is based on all sorts of small decisions and tweaks made behind the scenes. Another advantage to all this is that we can always go back in, fiddle with the settings and tweak things further – so do let us know how the search is working for you!

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Whether you work with 10 people, 10,000 people or just yourself, paying attention to mental health in the workplace has never been more important.

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