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Evaluate Your On-Site Search Engine Options

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There are freeware/shareware search engines, paid search engines, and specialized search engines for specific site content, such as multimedia or images. Evaluate these options thoroughly to find out which is best for your needs.

Judge the Pros and Cons of Freeware/Shareware Search Engines
Some free search tools can index only a few hundred documents and may not be as up to date as you would need. But they may be worth a gamble if you have a small site or aren't sure of the return you'll get from search-enabling your site. Two possible sources are Infoseek Corp.'s Infoseek Server or Wired Digital Inc.'s HotBot. These tools may come as free add-ons to other software, such as application suites or authoring tools. Some free search software is written by private individuals, who may not have the time or the commitment to keep the search engine current or to promptly fix bugs when they are recorded.

Find out what freeware/shareware search engines cost. Some are literally free, while others cost up to a few hundred dollars. Don't forget to consider related costs, such as hardware, extra storage space required, and time to implement and maintain.

Find out how much space freeware/shareware search engines require. Because these tools are less powerful than paid search engines, they won't require as much room. They can take up as little as 100 KB of space and as much as 500 KB.

Analyze the Costs of Paid Search Engines
Some paid search engines offer enhanced capabilities that you may need or want. Natural language searching, for example, which means that instead of having to type in special search characters, such as "greater than," "less than," and "and," your customers could simply enter "Find me all widgets larger than four inches and less than $200." Other search engines can pull related topics from off-site databases, index PDF files and Java-enabled pages, perform multilingual searches, or be configured to be used by visitors accessing your site from handheld organizers and smart phones. Paid search engines can be pricey, escalate in price with the number of documents that they can index, and take up a lot of space on server. The space problem is a real concern for sites that don't deploy their own servers but are hosted by third-party services that limit storage space.

Find out what paid search engines cost. Prices generally start at around $300 and could be many times that for larger sites. For example, Infoseek's Ultraseek Server is priced at $995 for sites wishing to index as many as 1,000 documents. For as many as 10,000 documents, the license fee increases to $4,995. Some companies offer a free trial of their search engine, sometimes for as long as 30 to 60 days. This is a good way to test out individual products, but you should test them internally rather than on your public site; you don't want to get your site visitors to get accustomed to the advantages of enhanced searching, only to wrest that capability from them after your trial period expires and you decide you don't want to pay for the product.

Find out how much space paid search engines require. Typically, paid search engines require 600 kilobytes to greater than 6 megabytes of space. If you have only 25 MB of storage space on your hosted Web site, you probably don't have the storage space to house this type of capacity. However, if your storage space is limited, you probably don't have that large a site to begin with. This may make a free, or relatively inexpensive, site search engine a valid option for you.

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