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Plan for Smooth On-Site Search Engine Operations

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As you add a search engine to your site, you'll need to ensure its success by placing it in the right location, providing clear instructions for its use, and preparing your content for a productive search.

Create a User Interface for Your Search Engine
Determine what your search engine's user interface will be. If one doesn't already exist, you'll need to create a tiny form with a text field and a Submit button with the look you want. Make it simple and easy to use. A simple search box ought to do the trick. This form usually includes a number of default fields hidden from end users, which include search engine methodology instructions such as whether the search engine should locate pages to match all search terms or any one of them. Another common hidden field is one that determines whether multiple search words should be combined with an And or an Or.

Write Clear Instructions to Accompany Your Search Engine
Offer some basic search tips for your visitors to increase their chances of finding what they're looking for. If your search engine offers multiple queries, data ranges, or stemming, make that clear in your instructions. You may want to include an example in your instructions. You may include suggestions that are served up when a search produces no results.

Position Your Search Engine Prominently
Place your search engine where it will be easy to find. Leading venues post their main search engine boxes on the top left or center of their home pages. Post search fields on all pages of your site for quick and easy visitor access.

Prepare Your Content with Your Search Engine in Mind
The titles are the main element in a result listing, since most search engines use the existence of a word in a title as a clue that the page is a good match for searches on that word, and will rank the page high up in the results list. Title your pages as descriptively as possible. Also use the meta description tag to summarize the contents of each page. Many search engines also use headings to rank a page in relevance for a particular search, so make sure your headings match your content.

Choose Keywords that Describe Your Content
Keywords allow search engines to identify the most important elements of the page and to rank the results so that the most relevant pages are at the top. Choose keywords that you think users will type in to your site search engine to find products or information on your site. You can use a thesaurus to look up synonyms, and remember to include brand names and generic names that you may use regularly. Each customer will have a different frame of reference and will search for your information in different ways. You'll need to provide several routes or cross-references to the same destination to ensure that your customers reach the information they need, regardless of the particular words they use for their search. You may also want to include common misspellings or other words that may not appear anywhere on your pages. A good set of keywords encapsulates the specific topics the page covers. There are several resources, such as Search Engine Watch's What People Search For, that allow you to observe in real time the keywords people are entering into search engines. This can be an invaluable opportunity to enhance your own keyword list. Here are some others:


Prevent Problems with Java-Created and Framed Pages
Since Java pages are frequently created "on the fly" from a company database, they may not actually reside on your Web site and your search engine may not be able to find them. Framed pages may have hidden URLs, which some site search engines aren't natively equipped to find.

Index Java and framed pages without problems. If you're using Java to create pages on the fly from a database, you should expand your search engine's indexing duties to include portions of your database that your search engine can find. Another good idea is to place this information in a knowledge base directly on your site, not only in a database that your site's server connects to. With the knowledge base residing on your site, your search engine should be able to find it in its daily or weekly patrols. Some paid search utilities, such as DevTech's SiteSurfer 1.0, can index Java-scripted pages. The best way to index framed pages is manually. Better yet, don't use frames unless you have a compelling reason to do so.

Prevent bad or expired links from being indexed. When you move or remove a page, let your Web master or site maintenance person know about it first. If you have pages that are prone to expire, such as product information that's now out of date, let the Web master know and then ask him or her to run a site index update that night.

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