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
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.
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.