Searchability, Findability, Discoverability … and Robot Waiters

robot waiter to illustrate searchability findability discoverabilityImplementing cutting edge search functionality is central to what we do here at Semantico. We talk about delivering Searchability, Findability and Discoverability. But what are these? Are they just made up new-media-type words or are they useful and tangible concepts? How do they differ from each other?

All right! Sticking an ‘ability’ at the end of a verb simply gives you a way of describing the ease with which you can do a certain thing. So for example:

  • Cookability – gives you a word for describing the ease with which it is possible to cook a certain dish
  • Singalongability – gives you a word for describing the ease with which it is possible to sing along to a certain song

Applied to the user actions that matter to us – i.e. Searching, Finding and Discovering – you end up with:

  • Searchability = the ease with which you can search on a given site
  • Findability = the ease with which you can find something on that site
  • Discoverability = the ease with which you can discover something on that site

Delivering these qualities boils down to delivering easy searching, finding and discovering. We already know the difference between these things! Don’t we?


Searchability is a fairly straight forward matter of indexing content, allowing users to input a search, returning some results to them and allowing them to pick one.

On its own, Searchability might not be that useful. For example, it could be perfectly possible to carry out a search without necessarily getting relevent results. While ‘finding’ implies success in a way that ‘searching’ doesn’t, ‘easy searching’ might not result in ‘easy finding’.

Consequently delivering findability is more involved. Even if we restrict the concept to search functionality, it is clear that you have to offer more to deliver this quality. It is not just a matter of making it possible to find content, Findabilty is about making it easy to find relevent content.

Findability: introducing the robot waiter

Imagine you’re in a futuristic restaurant and when the robot waiter approaches, you ask for ‘ham and cheese omelette’. In response he just shrugs his robotic shoulders and says ‘not found – please try again.’ You then have to keep guessing until you find a match for something you’d like to order.

Now imagine a second futuristic restaurant where the robot waiter says ‘Mr Grimes, how lovely to see you, the last time you visited you had A and B and gave them a 5 star rating. People who ordered x, also ordered y and found that the wines a, b and c went really well with it.’

At first restaurant the menu was searchable (though regretably the ‘ham and cheese omelette’ query didn’t match anything), at the second restaurant the menu was findable.

It is clear that the second robot is much more likely to earn a tip. He is working a lot harder. In a similar way delivering the ability to find is harder than delivering the ability to search. The table on this page shows some of the extra things you might think about to get a search implementation to work harder.

… But what is discoverability?

Discoverability is more concerned with the experience and process of finding your way through content. It is about the journey of finding, with the possibility of arriving at somewhere unexpectedly useful (perhaps discovering information that I wasn’t looking for). While findability is largely about the end-point: fast and successful finding (‘I want X’ followed quickly by ‘great I’ve found X’), discoverability delivers this and more.

This time our futuristic robot waiter would meet us outside, before we even select the restaurant and then stay with us throughout the meal, telling us all sorts of enjoyable and relevent anecdotes. He would earn himself more than tips. Crucially, he might also become an indespensible robot friend: a resource which we would return to time and again.

Delivering discoverability involves a further gear change in terms of hard work, though the return in terms of customer loyalty is well worth the investment.


Step 1 2 3 4
Searchability Index the content Allow users to input a search query Return some results Allow the user to pick one
Findability Enrich the data to increase recall of matching relevant records Allow users to rerun a saved search Define, tweak and measure “Relevancy” of results Allow for re-finding through bookmarking or saved records
Stem or normalise the data to increase recall of relevant records Enrich the query by expanding it to include similar concepts or spellings Present users with faceting to allow for drilling down into results Allow for further re-use through export functionality
Provide an advanced search form to make complex fielded searches easier Present sorting options to help bring the relevant records to the top
Present suggest as you type query terms Present alternative spellings via ‘Did you mean?’ suggestions
Use hit highlighting to provide strong verification of matching
Discoverability Push metadata into Google books Extract the search term used on the referring site (e.g. Google) and re-run the search Present related searches Present links to find related resources in my library
Allow some content to be crawled effectively by search bots Allow other sites to search your site via API Present extended results from other platforms or other non-subscribed to content Present “more like this” / related entries
Enhance the content for SEO Show a list of common terms (from data or user searches) Add Web 2.0 features to provide the ability to annotate /comment / share

So actually these words are essential in grading the types of user-experience we aim to deliver. And I hope, through this post, I’ve helped in some way to improve their understandability!

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