Searching Your Site

Adding Search Functionality to Your Web Site

Internet Search
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Giving the people who visit your website the ability to easily find the information that they are looking for is a key ingredient in creating a user friendly website. Website navigation that is easy to use and understand is essential to user-friendliness, but sometimes website visitors need more than intuitive navigation to find the content that they are seeking. This is where a website search feature can come in handy.

You have a couple of options for putting up a search engine on your site, including using a CMS (if your site is built on a Content Management System) to power this feature. Since many CMS platforms use a database to store page content, these platforms often come with a search utility to query that database. For example, my preferred CMS is ExpressionEngine, and this software has an easy-to-deploy utility to include site search on web pages built within that system.

If your site does not run a CMS with this kind of capability, you can still add search to that site. You can run a CGI across your entire site, or JavaScript across individual pages, to add a search feature. You can also have an external site catalog your pages and run the search from that.

Remotely Hosted Search CGIs

This is usually the easiest method to add search to your site. You sign up with a search service and they catalog your site for you.

Then you add the search criteria to your pages and your customers can search through your site using this tool.

The drawbacks to this method are that you are limited to the features that the search company provides with their particular product. Also, they can only catalog pages that are live on the Internet (Intranet and Extranet sites cannot be cataloged).

Finally, they only catalog a site periodically, so you don't have any guarantee that your newest pages will be added to the search database immediately. That last point can be a deal breaker if you want your search feature to be up-to-date at all times.

The following sites offer free search capabilities for your Web site.

Google Custom Search Engine
The Google custom search engine allows you to search not only your own site, but also create collections to search within. This makes the search more interesting for your readers because you can specify multiple sites to include in the search results. You can also invite your community to contribute sites to the search engine.

FusionBot
FusionBot offers multiple levels of search, at the free level you get: 250 pages indexed, 1 automatic index per month, 1 manual index per month, basic reporting, sitemap, and more. It even supports searching across SSL domains.

FreeFind
It is simple to sign up for this free service. It has additional features of a site map, and "what's new" pages that are automatically generated along with your search field. You control how often they spider your site, so you can be sure that new pages are added to the index. It also allows you to add additional sites to the spider to be included in the search.

Pico Search
Add up to three entry points to your search engine on the free plan. You get email tech support, 250 indexed pages, and manual reindexing. It has nice reporting that is easy to use and understand.

siteLevel Internal Site Search
With this free service, you add the functionality of having pages that are not included in the database. Thus if you want to have a certain section private, and not searchable, you would simply list that as an excluded area, and those pages would not be searchable. The free service will index 1000 pages with one re-index per week.

See the above in action

Host the Search Engine 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 or other programming language access on your site.

Fluid Dynamics Search Engine
This shareware product 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.

JavaScript Searches

JavaScript searches allow you to add search capability to your site quickly, but are limited to browsers that support JavaScript.

All-in-One Internal Site Search Script
This search script uses external search engines like Google, MSN, and Yahoo! to search your site. Pretty slick. 

Original article by Jennifer Krynin. Edited by Jeremy Girard on 1/3/17.