Friday, January 19, 2007

site search sucks

You go looking for data, information foraging as the usability guys call it, impatiently hunting for facts or functions.

When you arrive at a site, you know the content is probably there. Somewhere. But where?

You skim and scan, because like all web users, you're in a blasted hurry, and your co-workers are chatting too loudly, phones are ringing, or at home the kids are yelling and the TV is blaring those amplified audio volume commercials, that ad agencies lie and deny.

(The volume really IS louder when commercials come on. I worked on Madison Avenue, so I know what's up.)

You skim and you scan and you rack your tired multi-tasking brain. You look down the sidebar. You check the "Categories" links. You inspect the "Favorite Posts of the Past" list. You click around like crazy, trying every nav tab. You peruse some archived articles.

But no. The information may be there somewhere, in fact you may have even seen it during a previous visit. Yet, you cannot find it now.

Wait!

Look!

A "Search Site" text entry box! Wow!

Now you smile and type in the word or phrase, or even the EXACT title of a post or article. You enter it into the Search Site box, then click-select "Go" or "Search" or just hit the "Enter" button on your keyboard if you're super geeky or IBMy.

You wait a moment. The results? "No results". Or a pile of irrelevant crap that makes no sense.

Listen. In many cases, you may even type in the EXACT title, or the EXACT words to describe it. To no avail.

On the web developers email discussion list Evolt! some of us are discussing this. I'm the antagonist. Someone asked how people write PHP code to make a Site Search function for their site. Others are recommending solutions. But I am stirring things up by asking why they nearly always, 98% of the time in my experience, SUCK.

Site Search is one of the most important functionalities of any web site or blog, but they almost never work. Why is that?

Even my beloved Blogger site search up at the top of this blog, even it is crap. I've typed in the EXACT title of my own post, to find nothing, or a bunch of irrelevance. This is the famous and beloved Google behind the search technology, and it still sucks.

So I installed a Swicki Eurekster custom search engine on my site, called Blog Revolution Search Engine. I can train it to prioritize really relevant web pages and blog posts. I need to spend some more time training it.

My custom search engine, in the sidebar, gets almost as many hits as the blog itself. Try it out and report back to my via a comment or email, and let me know if it's working for you. At this point, I think every blog and web site should have alternative Site Search tools.

What think you?

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