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Why Good Sites Lack Search Engines

A new survey attempts to explain the inexplicable: why some perfectly good web sites fail to provide a search engine to improve user navigation. "We wanted to learn more about the relationship of search engines and web sites, and how web site managers view search engines," wrote Avi Rappoport of Search Tools consulting, lead investigator of the study. In a surprising finding, the majority of site managers surveyed had not installed a site search engine.

More than 1,600 webmasters responded to the survey, which covered the topics of why site managers have or have not installed search engines, correlations of the sizes of sites and the installation of search engines, frequency of updates, file formats served, languages, and number of languages used on sites.

Most sites with a search tool installed wanted to provide better navigation and a professional look for the site.

Other key findings:
  • Sites with more pages tend to have search engines installed.
  • Sites which are updated hourly or daily are much more likely to have search installed than those which update less frequently.
  • Sites with non-English text are more likely to have search engines installed.

Why haven't the majority of web managers surveyed installed search engines? Time and complexity were the most frequently cited reasons.

"Search engine requirements are more complex and idiosyncratic than they appear at first," wrote Rappoport in a summary of the survey findings. "A web site may have dynamic pages, or be missing page descriptions, or change often, requiring a flexible indexer to adjust to these conditions... A topical portal may have customers who perform many single-word searches. No one search engine is best for everyone, but some have consistently happy users while others are rated very badly."

Rappoport also noted that installing a site search tool is easiest on a local server. Administrators working on co-located and hosted servers have a harder time installing site search tools, and are significantly less likely to do so.

The report offers detailed analysis of all of the major survey findings, generously illustrated with graphs and charts. It's a fascinating glimpse at an important aspect of web navigation that's often overlooked, much to the detriment of users.

By Chris Sherman