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Oct 03, 2001
How To

eretailers Losing Billions Due to Useless Site Search Functions: Top 7 Tools for Your Web Site

SUMMARY: Ever tried to use the search box on an ecommerce site to find a particular product or service? Did you actually find what you were looking for easily? Or did you get either no result, or so many results that weeding through them was a real pain?

According to Forrester, 93% of ecommerce executives interviewed said their sites either didn't offer site search or were using software that failed basic tasks. Yet, a recent Jupiter MediaMetrix report stated, "80% of online users will abandon a site if the search function doesn't work well."So, how can you make your site's search...
By Paul Bruemmer, CEO Web-Ignite

These figures reveal a profound disconnect between eretailers and their potential customers. Online shoppers want easy search that works. eretailers aren't providing it.

Most ecommerce site search tools fail shoppers in one or more of five key ways:

1. The site does not have a search tool

2. Weak technology that's either unforgiving or too aggressive, so shoppers get too many results or none at all.

3. Inadequate background knowledge (no common language or defined relationships).

4. Poorly managed content, including inconsistent tagging, redundant titles, and unusable descriptions.

5. Unfriendly user interfaces (unhelpful input, inflexible output, and no way to take action).

If your site's search fails in any of these five ways, you'll certainly need to improve it before the busy holiday season. (If you are a B-to-B ecommerce site, you'll definitely want to include a better search tool the 2002 budget you create this Fall.)

Here's a quick guide to the seven top firms providing site search tools today. The list is alphabetical rather than prioritized except for the free tools at the end.

1. AltaVista Search Engine 3.0 is designed with a scalable, 64-bit multiprocessing architecture that integrates easily with back-end databases and business applications. It helps users find data in 30 languages and in over 200 file formats, including databases and e-commerce catalogs. AltaVista has over 1,200 customers, including HP, Arriba, Nordstroms, and Ticketmaster.

2. Ask Jeeves had been offering its natural language search technology to corporate customers as a service. However, it now sells JeevesOne software for enterprise Web solutions. Customers ask for the information, products, or services they're looking for through an Ask Jeeves-type question box. The company learns information about users through questions asked. JeevesOne starts at $100,000 with add-ons at $50,000. Jeeves Solutions President Claudio Pinkus said, "A larger number of companies prefer to operate their own software applications. An advantage of the software is the possibility of gross profit margins as high as 90 percent compared with 60 percent or so with services." You can request an online demo. Customers include Dell, Nextel, and Ford.

3. If you put EasyAsk on an e-commerce site, it accepts keyword or natural language input, matching these requirements to your entire site's product catalog. Over 90 percent of searches are accurately satisfied because EasyAsk uses all possible information, i.e., product category, requested attributes (price, color, size.), product description, etc. For instance, quoting EasyAsk VP Marketing David Harris, " a search for 'wine' will find burgundy, chardonnay, and any other wine, but will not show 'wine racks.'"

4. Inktomi Search Software offers a powerful and scalable natural language search engine for thousands to millions of pages. Options include CCE (content classification engine) for creation of directories and display of search results with categories. You can also adjust relevance rankings and index database content, spider SSL-protected servers, and search multiple language documents. Licensing costs vary by database size, starting at $2,995 for 3,000 documents with no penalty for updating to a larger index size. Try Inktomi Search Software for free by downloading a 30-day evaluation copy. Customers include Boeing, CNN, Yale University, and many more.

5. Mohomine builds licensable and OEM software products and solutions for e-business unstructured data management. Mohomine software enables enterprise applications to access and intelligently use unstructured data. Customers include Qualcomm, Peoplesoft, and Sourcebank.

6. Mondo Search offers search engines for corporate Web sites, intranets, extranets, and portals. It recognizes and sorts 12 languages automatically, and indexes PDF, MS Office, and any type of dynamic or static HTML. It claims to be the only "frames compatible" search engine on the market. You can get a free MondoSearch trial. Customers include IDC, Network Chicago, and Cablevision Systems Corp.

7. Free Options: For smaller sites of less than 500 pages, Atomz offers a free search engine service with no ad viewing requirement. You can quickly add a powerful search engine to any Web site with just a few lines of HTML and no programming. FreeFind is another free search engine, but you must view ads. A professional version is available without ads.

About the Author: Paul Bruemmer, CEO Web-Ignite, is a ClickZ columnist and has been quoted in The Los Angeles Times and MarketingSherpa. He is a frequent speaker at Search Engine Strategies conferences. Founded in 1995, Web-Ignite has helped promote over 15,000 Web sites and was recognized by ICONOCAST and MarketingSherpa as one of the most reputable SEO firms. You can reach him at
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