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You need to decide whether the value of having search on your Web site is greater than the cost of making sure that you do it well....


About 2,700 visitors carried out approximately 5,500 searches on my site in 2005. In total, there were 124,692 visitors and 1,232,773 page views during that period. So, a little over 2 percent of total visitors used search, with search activity representing less than .5 percent of page views.
Search is obviously not very important to the vast majority of people who come to my Web site. When I had installed a search engine on my site some years ago, I had simply assumed that I was adding value.
I also assumed that having a search engine was something that all serious sites must have. Why? If you go to gap.com, you won't see a search option on the homepage. Why doesn't Gap offer search?
I don't particularly like searching. I spent this morning searching for a memory stick. It was not a pleasant experience. Search feels like a waste of time. Google is great not because it's a search engine but because it helps people get search over with as quickly as possible.
I don't need search on Gap because I'm given clear navigation: Men, Women, Kids, Baby, etc. For many sites, quality navigation is enough. In fact, search may be a negative.
Why? Because it's really hard to get search right.
Search is a process, not a project. It's not simply about installing a search engine and then letting it do its magic. You need to be doing ongoing analysis and refinement to ensure that your customers get the best possible results. If you don't have the time to do that work, why have a search engine?
According to research conducted by Jupiter Research in April 2006, 62 percent of people click on a search result within the first page of results, and a full 90 percent of them click on a
result within the first three pages of search results. These figures were just 48 percent and 81 percent, respectively, in 2002.
Search is not something you can mess around with. People are impatient. They expect quality results within the first page. Are you regularly testing your search results to ensure that your customers are finding what they need within the first page of results? I certainly wasn't. But somehow I felt proud that I had a search engine on my site. It was a technical achievement.
Having a search engine can also be used as an excuse not to organize content professionally. It can be seen as a magic wand that gets people to where they want to go no matter how badly organized the content is. Of course, that's not the case.
I haven't got rid of my search engine, but it is now a lot less prominent on my most important pages. Since I initiated the changes in November 2005, I've had about 2-3 queries asking about search.
Making search less prominent has been part of a broader strategy to simplify my Web site. It's so easy to fill a page with search engines and subscription boxes, and bits and pieces of content.
It's much harder to stand back and ask: What exactly is the core purpose of this website?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

image of Gerry McGovern
Gerry McGovern (gerry@gerrymcgovern.com) is a content management consultant and author. His latest book is The Stranger's Long Neck: How to Deliver What Your Customers Really Want Online, which teaches unique techniques for identifying and measuring the performance of customers' top tasks.

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