The Many Flavors of Site Search

People have different methods of finding content on a website. Some scour HTML sitemaps, others scan the home page, while still others pound away at their keyboards through the site search box. Site search engines provide users with a simple and convenient way to locate products using the terms with which they are most familiar. When users can easily find what they want, they are more likely to buy - and in the end, that is what all Internet retailers want.

Site Search Recommendations

When users conduct a search on a website, they typically look for a text field where they can enter their term(s). According to Jacob Nielsen's Web usability tips, this search box (or field) should be no less than 27 characters wide in order for the text to be clearly visible and easy to use. Another recommendation is to place the search text field on the top of the page, because users tend to search a website according to the "F" pattern, (from top left to the bottom right). Include a button clearly labeled "Search" and not text such as "Go" or "Submit," as these expressions tend to mislead website visitors.

Site Search Tools & Resources

There are a variety of site search tools and resources available to Web professionals; some come standard with existing content management systems, others are standalone scripts and some are robust solutions with customization features galore. Which is right for your enterprise?

Google Site Search is easy to plug in, and the resulting user experience is so familiar to end-users that it has fast become a mainstay on many sites around the Web. PIt also has the advantage of an additional revenue stream for publishers through PPC advertising. But there are many - some would argue better - site search products available, all aiming to take a bite out of Google's market share.

Yahoo! Vertical Lens is part of the new and highly-touted Build Your Own Search Service (BOSS) platform, and allows developers to create site search engines that go beyond Google's plug-and-play offering. Among the features are real-time indexing of proprietary content, customized ranking (Vertical Lens allows sites to fine-tune the algorithm to fit their audience and user experience), and structured search, supporting faceted refinement of searches. For example, the Vertical Lens offering can blend standard Web results with proprietary content in a single search display. Should Yahoo! refine the offering to make it accessible to a greater number of Web professionals, the power of Vertical Lens could make it a viable contender in the world of site search.

EveryZing's ezSearch is a universal site search solution that indexes and searches multimedia content. Features of the hosted software-as-a-service solution include full customization of search results, multiple content format and ingestion capabilities (including crawling, feed-based and stream-capture), time-stamping of every word in the index, blended results, faceted navigation based on custom attributes and keyword merchandising capabilities. Ideal for Web properties with lots of video, EveryZing could well become the standard in site search for multimedia content.

Omniture's SiteSearch is another product that puts the world of on-site search into the hands of those in constant pursuit of ensuring the right information is presented to website visitors. More importantly, it tracks the experience for merchants on a granular level. Users of Omniture can promote top-performing products and content in results using pre-defined business rules and analytics-based performance metrics such as conversion, revenue and page views, resulting in a more dynamic search experience while providing merchants with detailed intelligence on visitor behavior. For the analytics-conscious Web professional, there is no better site search solution on the market.