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Integrating a Search Engine into Your Web Site

Suntek supports all of the features mentioned in The Fundamentals of Quality Search, which contains excellent tips on search interface design.

If you decided to put a search engine on your web site, you have made the right decision for your business. Search engines are particular useful for users who have focused interests in their minds when they land on your web site. These users, needless to say, are often serious customers for your company.

Once you decided you need a search engine, consult our 20-point search engine check list to make sure you have a broad understanding of the important aspects of search engines from a user's as well as an owner's point of view.

Once you find a search engine, you should consider how to integrate it into your web site. The article "Fundamentals of Quality Search" outlined 26 hints that you should consider in your design. They include hints on user interface design, e.g., where you should put the search box, how large should the search box be, what is the right font type and size, etc. These are mainly concerned with the design of the web pages that access the search engine, but not the search engine itself.

In addition, it also touches upon several requirements that the search engine has to provide in order to make the overall search function user friendly. For example, setting the default Boolean operator when the user hasn't specified any. The common default for Internet search engines is AND, i.e., all of the words must be found on a web page (although it took Altavista several years to switch its default connector from OR to AND). The rationale is that there are simply too many pages on the web that can be considered relevant to a query. It is believed (and found to be true in practice) that web pages that contain all of the search keywords tend to be more useful than those that contain just a subset of the search keywords. Given the large number of potential results, you definitely want to return those pages that meet "all aspects" (i.e., all keywords) of the user query.

For an intranet portal, the situation is a little bit different. A company portal is small compared to the total size of the web. The number of results returned from a query is hardly overwhelming. Furthermore, you may want to present not only the exact information that the user is looking for but also related information that may raise the interest of the user (and, as a result, encourage the user to stay longer on your web site). For example, if a user is looking for "tape recorder", in addition to pages that contain "tape recorder", you may also want to bring up pages that contain the word "tape" or "recorder" alone, just in case the user may also be interested in your cassette tapes and digital recorders. In this case, you need to default the Boolean operator to an OR. The search engine must allow you to easily configure (and reconfigure) the default action to let you experiment with the results.

The provision of pull-down menu to let users select "any word", "all words", "precise phrase", etc., is a good interface design, but again this is usually done "outside the search engine" by JavaScript that transforms the plain user query to a new query that contain the necessary Boolean operators to yield the desired effect.

Metatag is important for your company portal. It is about "garbage in, garbage out" and "giving content structure" to your web site. Given that you are willing to put in the metatags for each and every one of your web pages, your search engine must be able to search the metatags. A metatag keyword can be treated as an additional keyword of the web page in the search process (i.e., a word specified in a metatag is considered as a word in the body of the web page, but perhaps with a higher weight). Or it can be searched separately (e.g., providing a "title" or "product name" search). This feature essentially requires the search engine to support full-text search as well as field search (like searching fields on a database table). Not all of the search engines can support this. You can learn more about the specification of metatags and metatag search and the integration of field search and full-text search from our literature.

Finally, a search engine should provide flexibility to the search engine administrator to define the format of and the information to be included in the result page. For example, the administrator should be able to specify the number of results on each page and the information to be displayed with each result item, and to include links for jumping to any result page,. The user should have full control of the format and style so that the result page fits into the look-and-feel of the entire web site.

Example web sites:

Last update: May, 2001.

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