Developing Your Site's Search Engine

Wednesday, June 11, 2008 by Mistlee

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Developing Your Site's Search Engine

By Mike Moran

I'm old enough to remember when fathers and sons thought nothing of overhauling their own car engines-back before cars became little IT shops that need specialized equipment to repair.

As a certified girly-man, I cringe at even the thought of overhauling an engine, but I do know how to overhaul your site search engine. (You won't even get dirt under your fingernails.)

Search engines are complicated, which means that one size does not fit all. You need to be ready to customize the way your search engine operates so that it best fits your business and your customers.

Each search engine provides different dials to turn and levers to pull, but here are some of the most important:

Default Boolean operator. We'll forgive you if your first reaction is, "What the heck is a default Boolean operator?" Don't be intimidated by the terminology-the name refers to how the search engine treats multi-word queries. If a searchers enters digital cameras, does the search engine look for pages containing both "digital" AND "cameras"? Or pages containing either "digital" OR "cameras"? It's your search facility, so you get to decide. Defaulting to AND usually provides more precise results, but also more "not founds."

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Rank-factor boosting. Search engines use myriad factors to rank search results. When it's your site search engine, those factors are under your control. Don't be afraid to tweak the weighting of your ranking factors and test the results. Most site search facilities benefit from customizing ranking factors for improved relevance.

Linguistic and synonym dictionaries. To improve recall, you can request that your search engine expand its matching to include linguistic variants and synonyms of the keywords the searcher uses. Sometimes this kind of expansion can produce spurious results, but you can customize the dictionaries so that only the most helpful related terms are used.

Country and language filters. If your Web site sells to people of multiple countries or languages, you need to ensure that your search results are limited to the country/language combination they expect. Your conversion rates will skyrocket if you properly filter the right country results for the right person.

Expect your search engine to need some customization to provide optimal results. Now you at least know the basics to pay attention to.


About the Author:
Copyright Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an IBM Distinguished Engineer, expert on Internet marketing, and the author of Search Engine Marketing, Inc., the best-selling book on search marketing. Mike also writes the popular Biznology newsletter and blog.
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