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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Five Ways to Improve Your Site's Search Results

by James Lewin

Web site visitors use search extensively to find what they need. Because of this, making sure that your search engine supplies your clients what they're looking for is very important. If it doesn't, your customers will assume that your site doesn't have what they want, resulting in lower sales, unhappy customers, and increased support costs.

Most sites' search function is lousy. Bad search results are one of web customers' top complaints. Fortunately, improving your search results is easy. Make providing good search results a priority!

Here are five steps will help you deliver great search engine results:

1. Determine the most popular search requests at your site.

Many indexing servers compile live reports, including a list of the most common search requests. These lists make knowing what people are looking for at your site easy. Even if your indexing software doesn't provide this, you can usually get the same information from Web server logs. Focusing your energy on improving the most popular search requests will provide the greatest benefit for your time.

2. Test the popular searches for yourself.

Once you know what people are looking for, see how your search engine performs. Does it give you the right results? Starting with a manageable number of search requests (e.g., 25 to 50), and try each of them on your search engine. Are the top three search results the most relevant pages? If not, then your search stinks; you'll need to modify your pages to improve it.

3. Modify your pages to improve search results.

Once you have compiled a list of popular searches returning bad results, determine the top three pages that should be returned for each search phrase. Now modify these pages to improve your search engine's page rankings of them by adding the search phrase to the page's title, keywords, description, and body copy. The search phrase's order and frequency of use will determine how it is ranked. In addition, some index servers also allow you to map search phrases directly to the proper pages. Once you've made the changes, retry your searches to make sure that they are now delivering the right results.

4. Improve site navigation to reduce searches

Search requests are a great way to identify problems with your site's navigation. Providing links from your home page and other high-level pages to the pages that answer your most popular search requests should make finding the most important information at your site easier, and reduce your customers' reliance on your search engine.

5. Repeat

Once you have improved your search results and site navigation, repeat the process. You must monitor and maintain your search engine on a regular basis, because your site and your customers' desires will change over time.

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