If your website has a lot of content, you need to make it easy for visitors to search your site for the information they want. The easiest, quickest, cheapest solution I typically recommend to clients is to implement Google Site Search. It works flawlessly, and your users are already familiar with its user interface and the way it delivers search results.
Despite the availability of Google Site Search, I still see countless custom site search engines that for the most part just don’t work well. The most common problems are irrelevant or meaningless results, far too many results to be useful, or infrequent indexing.
Here’s an extreme example of things gone wrong. The search function within the online help system of a popular e-commerce platform has a bizarre quirk. If you search for “how to add a product”— a very common search string for an e-commerce platform— you will get six pages of results like these:
There are a few obvious problems here. First, the search engine is not smart enough to ignore words like “to” and “a.” Second, the results highlight every instance of “to” and “a,” even if the characters are part of another word. As bad as these two problems are, there’s a much bigger problem: of the 40+ results you get, not one comes close to explaining how to add a product!
Another problem site: IRS.gov. Try searching for “Schedule C”. The good news is, the very first search result is for the PDF version of the Schedule C form, and the second result is for the instructions on how to complete Schedule C. The bad news is that there are 3,930 results thereafter, with unhelpful results like these:
Another common problem I encounter are site search engines that don’t re-index sites frequently enough. Some engines don’t even do this automatically from time to time – the webmaster has to manually re-index the site. This can result in outdated results with broken links.
Take some time today to test your site search functionality. If it’s not up to par, a small investment in Google Site Search — which starts at just $100 per year — will be money well spent.