Sunday, 9 October 2011

Sort Out Search For Your Website

Once a website grows to more than four pages, people tend to feel a need for search box functionality. But what is the best way to get it? Is there more than one?


The first and most obvious place to look for one of these is Google. They have the best search facilities bar none, and provide a fast, convenient service. The trouble is, the free version of Google Custom Search is not only so heavily branded it's off- putting, it doesn't even work properly: every result for "CMS" when I installed it took me to other websites. Well, that's no good!

Rating: 2 out of 10.

But that's not all: CodeSnippets is a public source code repository full of useful bits of code including workarounds for getting a Google Search box that not only works properly, you're not forced to "wear" the logo where your clients can see it on your home page. Best of all, you can style and customise it to your heart's content so it actually looks good as well as being functional. Want to keep your readers on your site instead of losing them to a Google search? Just go into the source code and add target="_blank" to make the results open in a new tab.

Rating: 8 out of 10.


Another remotely-hosted site search engine, FreeFind sends a spider to crawl your website to index the pages. It's actually pretty fast. You have the option to customise the background and colours on which the search results appear, but they will appear on a page with ads at the top. For an ad-free results page, you have to pay. To be honest, Google's search results page looks better because you have the functionality Google offers as well as the results.

Rating: 4 out of 10.


Yet another remotely- hosted site search engine, JRank's results page is actually quite pretty and the search box is easy on the eye. The trouble is, they're hard to get hold of and although they promise you an easy customisation option, how to apply it is never made clear. When I realised this, I junked my account there because there's not much in the way of support.

Rating: 4 out of 10.

W3 Schools

You'd have thought that W3 Schools would be on top of this, but you know it's bad when you type in a search term on their own web page ("PHP") and the response is "no suggestion." Well, that's no good! The page itself is confusing (I use other people's code, I don't write my own) and there's no instruction on how to apply it. Since there seems to be no way of utilizing this, I don't think it's worth bothering with.

Rating: 0 out of 10.

Dynamic Ajax

When a friend of mine recommended Dynamic Ajax, I checked it out at once. Then I discovered what the problem with it is: you have to set the keywords for it to retrieve when people use the search box. Since you can never accurately predict what a person is likely to search for in a search box, this isn't terribly helpful. What you want is a program that spiders your site regularly and indexes it somewhere, then returns the relevant text when someone uses the search box. Instructions are unclear, so I went back to the Google one. At least I know it will work properly.

Rating: 4 out of 10.


There is a range of site search options that I haven't mentioned, and most of them seem really impressive. However, the lack of clear, n00b-friendly instructions sent me scurrying back to the tried-and-tested because it is comparatively easy to use.

The fact is, the remote site-search options are probably the best in the long run because the people behind them are constantly updating them and re-crawling the websites signed up to them. The ones you upload to your server have to be upgraded from time to time. And every time you upload a new page or make changes to your site, you have to set the server spider to re-index your page. Google automatically does all that the minute you upload a new file (or post in your blog).

There's not a simple way around it unless you want poor results because you couldn't second-guess a reader's search query. If I find a better option than the one I've got now, I'll be sure to let you all know. And I'll give the genius who put the code together the e-quivalent of a ticker-tape parade in this blog.

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