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Adding Search Functionality To Your Site

Once you have a site that has a lot of information, your readers will want to be able to search the site for information without having to navigate through numerous menus or wade through long lists of options. A search engine or search utility gives your site more interactivity with your readers and encourages them to stay longer. Your users can just type in a few keywords for what interests them, and within seconds they are shown to the exact pages on your website that are relevant.

Usability studies show us that more than half of all web users will go straight to the search box when they enter your site, rather than try to find information following your navigation links. They are not interested in looking around the site but rather in finding what they want as fast as possible.

You need a search engine on your website when your site:

  • Has a large number of pages
  • Covers a wide variety of topics
  • Lists of info (e.g favorite recipes, products for sale, family history bios, descriptions of other web sites, company addresses)
  • A store with its product listings
  • A company directory (like a yellow pages site)
  • A web site directory (like yahoo)
  • Any site with a FAQ that's getting a bit too long

There are several options you can do.

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Remotely Hosted Search CGIs

This is the easiest (usually) method to add search to your site and there are a number of free search services. You sign up with a search service, and they catalogue your site. Then you add the search criteria to your pages and your customers can search through your site.

Drawbacks to this method

  • Limited to the features that the search company provides
  • Only pages that are live on the Internet are catalogued (Intranet and Extranet sites cannot be catalogued).
  • Only catalogues a site periodically, so you don't have any guarantee that your newest pages will be added to the search database immediately.

Examples of some free search services

1. Freefind

  • Can index up to 3,000 average-size pages with your free account.
  • Automatically generates a site map for your site and "what's new" pages that are automatically generated along with your search field. A site map is a great tool to help your visitors navigate your site, and to quickly allow the search engines to pick up all your pages when they crawl your site.
  • You control how often they spider your site, so you can be sure that new pages are added to the index. It allows you to add additional sites to the spider to be included in the search.

2. whatUseek's intraSearch

  • Can index up to 1000 pages.
  • Can specify pages that would not be searchable.
  • Re-index on demand.
  • Can make password protected areas of your site searchable.

3. Google

  • Only pages that are already in Google's database will be displayed in the results.
  • Can't instruct Google to crawl your site at your desired frequency. You will have to wait until Google crawls the web (usually once a month) before more of your pages can be added to Google's database.
  • Google is a good option if most of your pages are already indexed and you don't update your site that often.

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Host on Your Site

If you want to have more control over what is searched and who has access, then you might want to look into hosting the search engine on your own server. This will require that you have CGI access to your site.

Fluid Dynamics Search Engine

This shareware product ($40) has the convenient feature of a fully automated wizard online to help you install the search engine. It includes online administration of your search engine, and includes usage statistics for what people have searched on.

  • You install on your own site.
  • Only searches the sites that you tell it to (not like Google or Altavista that searchs the entire Internet)
  • Can handle about 10,000 documents
  • Has its own built-in web robot for retreiving files, which means it is not limited to searching only documents on its own server. It builds its own index files and returns results from them, unlike some "meta-search" scripts which make behind-the-scenes requests to major search engines to gather results.
  • Runs entirely on your server, so visitors aren't redirected to a separate centralized server to get their results (as with Freefind).
  • If your web server doesn't support Perl CGI at all, then you might be better off with one of those remotely-hosted solutions.
  • Is a flat search engine - it accepts keywords and shows a ranked list of search results. It does not organize pages into browsable categories and subcategories like Yahoo does.

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JavaScript Searches

JavaScript searches allow you to add search capability to your site quickly, but are limited to browsers that support JavaScript.

Find in Page

If you have a page on your site with a lot of information (a glossary of terms, for instance). You can add this page search to the top to allow your readers to get to the relevant information quickly.

Site Search

You simply include all your pages in a list along with keywords and descriptions and your site can be searched. Any pages you leave out will not be included in the search results.

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