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Search User Experience Critique for Consultancy Websites

Based on my technology trends meta-analysis, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the most discussed trend for 2019. Prompted by this insight, I decided to catch-up with AI thought leadership authored by top consultancies. To pursue this goal, I engaged with each firm’s search user interface by entering “Artificial Intelligence” including the quotes. In general, my user experience was surprisingly poor.

This blog post summarizes the good and the bad for each internet site. For this comparison, I only used my laptop — the mobile experience might prompt additional observations.

Accenture

Good

  • The extensive filter functionality is easy to find and easy to use.
  • Each result prominently displays the ‘Content Type’ (e.g. ‘Insights’ versus ‘Capability’) and ‘Date’. See the first screenshot below.

Bad

  • In the initial “view all” search, the first result is from 2016. With the default ordering ‘by relevancy’, this might be objectively true; however, seeing an item published in 2016 as the first result erodes confidence.
  • Selecting the filter to display by ‘Most Recent’ narrows to a more manageable 78 Results; however, this begs the question of “what happened to the other 2412 results seen in the default view?” See the second screenshot below.
  • Worse, the 78 results do not list any items published in 2019 even though items published this year did appear in the original “view all” search.
  • Sort by Relevance or Date is buried. To find, you must click ‘+ FILTER’ and then scroll through the many filters to find the Relevance versus Date functionality as the very last choice among the filters.
  • With the filtering, I see a cryptic “Did you mean ‘artificial intelligence,’” message at the top of the page. Again, see the second screenshot.
  • Some of the filter’s meanings are unclear. For example, the significance of ‘Careers Area’ isn’t intuitive. And, Content Group’ with values ‘Careers’, ‘Institute for High Performance’, ‘Business Service’, etc. feels inward-focused, contrast to customer-focused.
  • Some of the filter values are not true siblings. For example, ‘Topic’ is conflated with ‘Consulting’ organizational unit mixed-in with valid topics such as ‘Strategy’.
screenshot for search results
Accenture screenshot #1
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Accenture screenshot #2

Bain

For functionality, Bain is one of my favorite user interfaces. With initial page load, Bain’s user interface displays filter functionality along the top of the search results page.

The thumbnails appear on the right-margin — this is neither good nor bad; however, the left-margin is the more common placement among the sites studied here, as well as the internet as a whole.

Good

  • Results include a snippet, which provides a deeper understanding of the item prior to clicking-through compared to the title alone.
  • Clean, uncluttered appearance.
  • Sort by Relevance or Date is prominent compared to Accenture.
  • Extensive filter functionality.
  • Granular filters facilitated by the filter pull-downs being across the top margin. For example, there are 38 industries to choose from.
  • Clear conveyance of filters selected without requiring scrolling. See the screenshot below.

Bad

  • Regions filter is limited to selecting cities, organized by regions, not the regions themselves.
screenshot for search results
Bain screenshot

Boston Consulting Group (BCG)

With the initial page load, BCG’s user interface displays filter functionality along the left margin.

Good

  • Results include a snippet.
  • Clean, uncluttered appearance.
  • Sort by Relevance or Date is prominent.

Bad

  • Sort by Date only appears after selecting some, but not all, filters. This option should appear in the default “view all”, and all filters. See the screenshot below.
  • A checkbox icon would more strongly convey “click here to filter”.
  • Content “format” (my word) isn’t displayed on all items. The screenshot illustrates with the first two results being noted as ‘Infographic’, but the next two do not include this facet. Scrolling further down shows values of ‘Article’, ‘Interview’ and ‘Report’. “Format” would be a useful additional filter.
  • The ‘Featured Topics’ filter is limited with one, fairly cryptic, value of ‘DigitalBCG’. This is a missed opportunity to filter for subtopics under the broad topic of “artificial intelligence”.
screenshot for search results
BCG screenshot

Deloitte

With the initial page load, Deloitte’s user interface displays filter functionality along the left margin.

Good

  • Results include a snippet.

Bad

  • The exact number of results is missing when greater than 100. The user interface only says “More than 100 results”, which left me wondering if I was facing 101 or 1001 results to decipher.
  • The “Include results from all of Deloitte.com” checkbox is a bit confusing. As indicated by the URL, I know I am viewing the U.S. internet site and the question is intended to convey the option to include all non-U.S. content. Thinking through this logic is too much to expect of the more casual audience. See the screenshot below.
  • URLs are visible. I can’t think of any value provided by this design choice and it contributes to clutter. If a user really is interested in URL, all they need to do is hover over the item’s title.
  • Dates aren’t visible and there is no option to sort by date versus sort by relevancy. It is not obvious if the default view is by date or relevancy.
  • Filter by ‘Profiles’ isn’t an intuitive label until clicking through to realize these are “People Profiles”. A more intuitive label, with no increase in space, would be ‘People’.
  • Events nicely indicate “On-demand Webcast” (other than it would be helpful to make this text more visible with bold, italics, or a contrasting color). However, for parallel structure, it would be beneficial to also use a “Conference” prefix where applicable.
  • On 18 June, the first event is the Tech Intercepts conference held on 30 May. The page for this event still uses future-tense, whereas, it should be recast as past tense and note where/if any presentations are available.
  • The Filter by Topics is ineffective. Only nine items are displayed. Two items only display the title Artificial Intelligence, and do not include a snippet — shouldn’t all items in the collection have the topic Artificial Intelligence and thus making these results unnecessary? See the screenshot below.
  • The Filter by Services is similarly ineffective with the results, in general, not clearly conveying the Service. For example, the second result is “In Retail, It Is Tough to Improve the Bottom Line”. What is the Service?
  • Both Filter by Topics and Filter by Services would benefit from checkbox choices to pick individual topics and/or service — as nearly all the other sites have.
  • No ability to filter by Industry.
screenshot for search results
Deloitte screenshot

EY

The initial page load is disappointing (for details, see the first two bullets under ‘Bad’ below and the first screenshot). To find my way to something more productive, I needed to select the ‘Artificial Intelligence’ Topic page (the first choice among Topic pages).

Good

  • Results include a snippet.
  • Clean, uncluttered appearance.
  • The AI topic page nicely spotlights EY’s “latest thinking” with a brief introduction, followed by one full page-width tile, followed by more tiles (in columns), which are sorted by date and include image, title, snippet, date, and author. See the second screenshot below.
  • Scrolling further down reveals subsections for ‘How EY can help’ (i.e. Services), ‘The team’, two featured articles (alas, the first is from September 2017 and the second was published in July 2018), Twitter feed, and the opportunity to jump out to similar Topic pages for related topics (e.g. ‘Emerging tech’). All helpful and providing a curated full experience. ­

Bad

  • The initial view provides no filtering or sorting functionality. 587 results and no interaction provided other than scrolling through page after page. See the first screenshot below.
  • In the initial view, the first result is a Press Release dated August 2018. This makes no sense since the next result (off the bottom of the screenshot) is a more appropriate April 2019 Press Release equally headlining AI.
  • Even from the Topic page, there is no filter functionality, e.g. to narrow by industry, and no option to sort by Date or Relevancy.
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EY screenshot #1
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EY screenshot #2

KPMG

With the initial page load, KPMG’s user interface displays filter functionality along the left margin. KPMG is the only site that uses an ‘Advanced search’ label. Expanding this section reveals filter functionality by Date, Geography, Industry, and Service. See the first screenshot below.

Good

  • Results include a snippet.
  • Extensive filter functionality.

Bad

  • At a reasonable window width, the top navigation and search box are hidden in the responsive design. See the second screenshot below.
  • A relatively cluttered appearance compared to the other sites.
  • The sort by functionality in the upper-right corner can be easily overlooked when all the other results manipulation are in the left margin.
  • Like Deloitte, the ‘Search all sites’ and ‘Search this site’ assumes that the audience can comprehend that this is the Global site (without clear labeling as this) and that there are other stand-alone sites in the KPMG internet family.
  • Like Deloitte, although even more so, the ‘Event’ category suffers from events in the distant past with the event page remaining in future-tense, and with no opportunity to download or view artifacts from the event. Why display these?
  • The ‘Blog’ category results do not include a date.
  • The ‘Clear facets’ label is a bit “geeky” and the International “not” icon unnecessarily conveys this is a negative (as in an error) choice. Better would be a simple “Clear selections” label without an icon.
  • The ‘Clear facets’ is buggy. For example, I selected ‘Date = 2018’ and then clicked ‘Clear facets’ to receive a “Did you mean: Artificial Intelligence” error. See the third screenshot below.
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KPMG screenshot #1
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KPMG screenshot #2
screenshot for error message
KPMG screenshot #3

McKinsey

The McKinsey user experience is similar to the EY experience. The initial search returns a daunting 741 results and reveals no filter functionality. See the first screenshot below. Although not labeled as such, the first result looks promising for arriving at some sort of landing page for the topic. Indeed, that is the case. See the second screenshot below.

Good

  • The AI landing page provides a nicely curated collection of circa 25 items.
  • The featured items include a snippet, date, and content type.
  • Sort by Relevance or Date is prominent.
  • Clean, uncluttered appearance.

Bad

  • No filter functionality on either the initial page nor the landing page.
  • Sorting by Date from the initial view is not accurate. After sorting by Date, the first item shown was published in September 2018.
  • After sorting by Date, the results no longer show publish dates that are seen when sorting by Relevancy.
  • Sorting by Date intermingles people profiles, which aren’t date dependent.
screenshot for search results
McKinsey screenshot #1
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McKinsey screenshot #2

PwC

With the initial page load, PwC’s user interface displays the (limited) filter functionality along the left margin.

Good

  • Results include a snippet.
  • Sort by Relevance or Date is prominent.
  • Clean, uncluttered appearance. See screenshot below.

Bad

  • Filter function is limited to date-range.
  • Only a few results have thumbnails. When included, the thumbnail pushes the text to the right (compared to the many results without a thumbnail), which slows browsing through the results.
  • For U.S. audience like myself, the site defaults to the United States site and finding your way to the Global site is cryptic. To find Global required clicking on a non-intuitive icon and scrolling down to the Gs. See the second screenshot. Better would be using a globe icon and placing Global at the top of the long location list since it is different-in-kind from the many country sites. The search query does not persist when selecting Global.
  • Global has 149 search results and U.S. has 280 results, leading to an assumption that Global only includes items classified as Global, and doesn’t include content classified to a country. Assuming true, this makes it difficult to execute the desired use case of “show me all the recent thought leadership, worldwide”.
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PwC screenshot #1
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PwC screenshot #2

Summary

Across the eight sites studied, I believe that Bain has the best search user interface. Unfortunately, Bain’s ease of use and completeness isn’t matched by the depth of the available content. This is not surprising given that Bain is a comparatively smaller firm among the sample of eight. The larger firms suffer from the inverse, numerous relevant thought leadership reports; however, limited or difficult search experiences.

Overall, I am surprised by how hard I needed to work to achieve the specified use case. What do you think, am I being too harsh?

Published in Knowledge Management Portfolio

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