Nowadays businesses spend a lot of time thinking about search and how it relates to their Web sites and a lot of money trying to come up with ways to improve how their sites relate to search.
But for many businesses this takes the form of an almost exclusive focus on improving their visibility to Google and boosting their site ranking through a variety of search engine optimization techniques. And while SEO can be effective, it is also in many ways a black art, with even the best SEO practitioners feeling that they have little control over the changes and whims in search that Google enacts.
The funny thing is that there is an area of search that these businesses have much greater control over but that they pay much less attention to or even ignore outright. And this is the search capabilities of their own Web sites.
When it comes to how users find information and content on your site, a well-implemented search engine can pay real dividends in helping users find what they are looking for. But, strangely, many proprietors of Web sites seem to ignore their own search capabilities, doing little in the way of internal search optimization.
A recent report from JupiterResearch entitled "Site Search: Building the Ultimate Results Page" takes a look at how sites are implementing search and how different types of users take advantage of site search to find Web content. While there was little in the report that was completely new, it does make clear the importance of taking the time to build a site search engine that helps users find content on your site and keeps them on your site and coming back, rather than giving a poor site search experience that leaves visitors frustrated and disinclined to return.
For its report, JupiterResearch surveyed users that it broke down into four groups, Super Net Veterans, Net Veterans, intermediate users and novices. The survey found that novice users were more likely to rely on site search than advanced users. Also, novices were more likely to take advantage of search aids such as most popular results while veterans were more likely to use advanced search and sorting options when using site search.
The report also looked at the use of multimedia and rich Web interfaces to improve the capabilities and reach of search results.
To me, while the report wasn't surprising in any way, it did reinforce the importance of good site search. And the thing I find strange is that, despite the ease with which site search can be improved, many sites still don't do it.
My recommendation is to use the tools that your site search engine provides to come up with ways to improve its capabilities. Look for the most common search terms and build custom results to make these more effective. Make sure that common misspellings still return the results that people are looking for.
Most importantly, make sure that it works. If you have a hard time finding content that you know exists using your search engine, visitors will find it next to impossible.
And if your visitors can't find what they are looking for, then they don't have any reason to come back to your site.