Adding Search Functionality to Your Website

Give your website visitors and easy way to find the information they want

Internet search graphic
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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, one preferred CMS is ExpressionEngine. 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 Common Gateway Interface (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

A remotely hosted search CGI 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 your site using this tool.

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

Finally, your site is only cataloged 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 website:

  • 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: This service 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 sitemap, 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.
  • 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.

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.

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