You may (or may not) be amazed how many people use thesitewizard.com's internal search engine to look for specific articles. This is in spite of the fact that many of the commonly-sought articles are listed on the main page, are sorted by category in the Topic Index, and are exhaustively listed in the Site Map. It underlines the principle that different people have different methods of locating content on a site.
Search engines provide a convenient way for people to locate things on your site using the terms which they are familiar with. When they can easily find what they want on your site, they are less likely to go away disappointed when the content is actually available on your site albeit under a different name.
If you don't have a search engine catering specifically to your site, it's time you considered adding one. There are three ways you can go about putting such a site search engine to your website.
The ideal way, in my opinion, is to install your own Perl search engine script or PHP search engine script. This requires you to have the facility to install and run PHP or Perl scripts on your web account. You don't need to be able to write one. There are numerous free search engine scripts that you can adapt for your site. You can find a list of these on the Free Search Engine Perl Scripts (for Perl scripts) and the Free Php Search Engine Scripts (for PHP scripts) pages.
In general there are two types of PHP or Perl search engine scripts. One will search your entire website for the relevant article each time your visitor invokes the search engine. The other creates an index of your site and only searches the index when the visitor uses the engine. The former is easier to configure and use for the newcomer, but quickly becomes sluggish when your website grows big. The latter is more efficient, but often requires you to remember to re-index your site each time you change your pages.
Installing your own search engine script has, at the very least, the following advantages:
You can customize your results page to your heart's content.
There are no third party advertisements, except those you place yourself and those from your web host, if you use a free web host.
You can re-index your site as many times as you need to.
Re-indexing your site does not increase your bandwidth utilization, unless the script accesses your site via HTTP.
You will need Perl or PHP support on your web server.
You will need to muck around with the Perl or PHP script in order to configure it. Search engine scripts typically need more configuration work than, say, a feedback form.
If installing a PHP or Perl CGI script is a problem, or if you prefer to let others handle the hassle (not really much of one actually) of maintaining the engine, you can use one of the many free or commercial hosted search engine services. These services index your site for you and provide you with the HTML code to plug into your web pages. That's it. You have a working search engine for your site with little of the installation woes.
A list of Free Search Engine Remote Hosting Services may be found at http://www.thefreecountry.com/scripthosting/searchengines.shtml
Advantages of using the free search engine script remote hosting services include:
You do not need the ability to run Perl or PHP scripts on your web server.
You don't have to worry about figuring out how to configure and upload Perl CGI scripts or PHP scripts.
Apart from configuring things like the frequency you want your site indexed and the appearance of your results page (through a convenient web interface), all you usually need with such services is to plug the supplied HTML code into your pages.
Most (if not all) free services impose banner advertising on the results page. Even if they don't, they often put a logo on the results page that points to their site. Depending on your needs, you may find that this detracts from the professionalism of your site. Many of the free services, however, have a paid option which will remove the third party advertising that the they impose with the free accounts.
The URL displayed in the location box of your visitors' browsers will not be your site's but the search engine's. However this can easily be circumvented by putting the results in an invisible (or visible) frame on your site.
Although most services allow you to customize your search results page, many do not provide the facility to completely control the output the way you might want to do to fit your site decor.
Some search engine hosting services impose a limit on the frequency you are allowed to re-index your site. Some only index your site at a fixed interval (eg, once a week) which means that the results shown may not be current. You should therefore read their documentation carefully before you sign up to make sure you get a service that suits your requirements.
Re-indexing your site typically requires the search engine to spider your site, thus adding to your website's bandwidth usage. If you are also using a commercial web host where you pay for your bandwidth, or if you use a free web host with limits on the bandwidth you are allowed, this might be a concern.
If the search engine host decides to discontinue the service, your site search will suddenly fail to work.
Few people realise this, but you can actually use the major search engines like Google as your site's search engine, free of charge.
To do this with Google, go to Google Custom Search Engine and complete the online form.
This method has not only the disadvantages of using third party remote hosting services listed above, it has also the following additional disadvantages:
The re-indexing frequency of your site is even more limited than when using one of the remotely hosted search engine services mentioned above. You have basically no control over the frequency that the major search engines index your site. This means that the search engines results will frequently be inaccurate - and if you add new pages to your site often, your site search engine will not be able to locate it.
The results page has the search engine's advertisements and formatting. You have even less control over the output than when using the third party search engine remotely hosted services.
Adding a search engine improves your site navigation. In allowing your visitors another means to locate items on your site, you are increasing the likelihood that they will find your site useful, bookmark your site, buy your goods/services, and so on.
With so many alternatives to adding a search engine to your site, most of them free, there is really little reason not to do so now (unless, of course your site only has a few pages).
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