Searching for Quality


I'm in research mode for a client project right now, and that's all it takes to re-introduce me to the sorry state of site search - the capability a publisher provides for users to search just within the publisher's own site. The only conclusion I can draw from what I see is that publishers view site search as an expense to be minimized, and programmers view it as not worthy of their time and talent.

That's a big mistake.

Visitors to your site who use your site search capability are engaged users. They're investing time to probe deeper into your site because you've convinced them you are relevant to their interests and needs. These are prime visitors who you can monetize through advertising or a la carte sales of content. These are also visitors who'll likely come back again if you provide a rich and rewarding experience. Yet despite all this upside, site search is typically an afterthought. Here's my list of top offenses:

- Limiting yourself to low-cost or free site search software without regard to the kind of experience it delivers to the users of your site.
- Failing to integrate site search results into the site's style sheet and theme (usually because the designer is long gone before site search is implemented). Besides the jarring visual disconnect to those searching your site, your site screams "we don't care" which brings the value of your content into question.
- Providing only global site search capabilities. If your site contains different types of content, let users limit their searches. If I am on a newspaper site searching for a restaurant review, I don't want to wade through classified ads, news stories and obituaries in my search results.
- Not using content tags for searching. Most publishers are tagging all their content inside powerful content management systems to improve the front-end site experience, but I see little evidence that all these powerful CMS capabilities are being used to improve the back-end (i.e. site search) experience.
- No power searching capabilities. There's nothing more frustrating than reviewing results in order of relevance when date order is what you really need. Just a few simple options like this can radically upgrade the site search experience.
- No dates. A personal pet peeve of mine, there's nothing more frustrating than finding an absolutely on-target article through a site search and having absolutely no idea what month, year or even decade it was written, immediately rendering it worthless.

When you also consider that because many publishers hold their archives in database form meaning they are not typically visible to the big general search engines, site search gives publishers one shot at unlocking the value of this content. Instead, most are shooting themselves in the foot.

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