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Search Tools

Search Tools Survey Results


This survey has been on the SearchTools site since December 1998 and was distributed to the SearchTools News mailing list: the following report summarizes the 86 completed entries tabulated as of March 15, 1999. It is a self-selected group of respondents, and the results are interesting, if not yet statistically significant. We will continue accepting survey entries and will tabulate results periodically.

This survey is copyright © 1999 by Search Tools Consulting, and all rights are reserved. The survey was designed, analyzed and reported by Avi Rappoport. Personal information in the survey will be kept private at all times. For reprint permissions or survey data purchase, please contact Search Tools Consulting.

Summary

We wanted to know why Web site administrators may or may not install search on their sites. Those who have say they did so to improve navigation on their sites. Of those who haven't, a majority says that they haven't had time, or the search engines software is too complex. Only a few say that there is no need on their site, or that their site doesn't serve enough content.

Site size, audience and content affects how web site administrators approach search and what makes them more likely to implement it. As we expected, larger site tend to have search, to provide an alternate navigation path. Sites with certain audiences, such as medical professionals, tend to have search, perhaps to conform to the audience expectations. We were surprised at the number of sites which targeted information professionals but did not have search installed. The sites in our survey with three or more languages, which also tended to be large sites, all have search. And a large number of sites are now serving PDF, word processor files and spreadsheets, all of which can be indexed by some search engines.

The other important factor in search installation is the location of the server. It's much easier to install a new server script or application on a local machine, so sites with in-house servers were much more likely to have search. Those which are co-located at an ISP, and especially those hosted by a web presence provider tend not to have search installed.

The survey also asked site administrators to rate their search tools and comment on their strengths and weaknesses. There was a lot of variation, but Ultraseek, ht://Dig, Phantom and Webinator were the top-ranked site search tools. The Survey Products Ratings Page contains the ratings and comments about what they did and didn't like about the products.


Table of Contents


Reasons To Install Search

53% of the survey responses were from those who have installed site search. They said that they have done so because they knew, in the words of one respondent "it was the right thing to do". This is mainly expressed in terms of improving navigation and providing a professional look to the site.

Reasons to Implement Search
(Multiple responses allowed)

improved navigation 33
professional look 7
marketing made us do it 1
customer service made us do it 1
customer demand (especially for support information) 1
necessary for the UI 1
too many pages to navigate without search 1
it was the right thing to do 1
necessary after reorganizing thousands of files 1
solutions for support staff 1

 


Reasons Why Search is Not Installed

When explaining why they didn't install a site search tool, most web site administrators said that they didn't do so because they didn't have time, search tool complexity and lack of instruction, rather than price. A few said that they didn't have enough content or any need for site searching, while others serve dynamically from a searchable database, so they don't need an additional search engine. Those which cited cost as the main consideration were very large sites, of more than 5,000 pages.

 


Site Information

We were looking for information about how web site administrators approach search and what makes them more likely to implement it. As we expected, larger site tend to have search, to provide an alternate navigation path. Sites with certain audiences, such as medical professionals, tend to have search, perhaps to conform to the audience expectations. The sites in our survey with three or more languages, which also tended to be large sites, all have search. And a large number of sites are now serving PDF, word processor files and spreadsheets, all of which can be indexed by some search engines.

Size of Site

We asked about site size because more complex sites need more complex navigation and search support. As we expected, larger sites have a strong tendency to have search, where sites with fewer than 1000 pages are much less likely to include search. This proportion drops off as the site becomes extremely large, probably because high-end search tools tend to be harder to install and more expensive.

number of pages without search with search
less than 100 17 3
< 500 11 2
< 1000 8 5
< 2500 3 9
< 5,000 1 7
5,000 and up 6 12
unknown 4 0

 


Update Frequency

Sites which are constantly updating their content may wish to give their visitors the most navigation options. However, many site searchtools tend to put an additional load on the server and have a hard time keeping up with the site updates. As you can see, those which update hourly and daily tend to have site search installed. On further investigation, I found that large sites which change frequently are much more likely to have search installed than small rapidly-changing sites.

Update Frequency without search with search
Hourly 1 4
Daily 16 24
Weekly 15 10
Monthly 11 1
Rarely 2 0
As needed 0 1

 


Site Target Audience

In all categories, I found that the audience -- the expected users of the site -- did not correlate well with the installation of site searching. I had expected that sites designed for information experts and technical people would be much more likely to have search, and that is true, but there are a surprising number of sites with this target audience which do not have site searchtools installed.

Standard Audience Types

type without search with search
children 2 2
teens 8 8
general adults 25 29
technical people 18 22
info. experts 12 16
other (total) 10 22

 

Other Audience Types

We allowed survey respondents to specify their audience individually, and they took advantage of the opportunity, indicating that wide categories may be uncomfortably general. Note that intranets and medical sites tend to have search engines, while education do not.

Other... without search with search
academics 1 2
adult 1 0
advocacy groups 0 1
bankers 0 1
business people 1 0
call center workers 0 1
employees (intranet) 0 3
media people 2 1
medical health professionals 0 4
military 0 1
musicians 0 1
parents 0 1
scientists 0 2
sports fans 0 1
students 1 1
subscribers to specific software 1 0
tax preparers & accountants 0 1
teachers, school administrators 3 0
writers & journalists 0 1

 


Languages on the Sites

We found that sites with non-English text were somewhat more likely to install a search engine.

Languages without search with search
English 42 37
French 5 8
Spanish 1 3
German 1 4
Kanji/Katakana 0 2
Unicode 0 1
Chinese 0 1
Danish 1 0
Dutch 1 1
Finnish 0 1
Hebrew 0 1
Italian 1 0
Pilipino 0 0
Yiddish 0 1

 

Interestingly, sites with three or four languages were significantly more likely to have search than not to have search. They also tended to be the largest sites, needing the most sophisticated navigation features.

Number of Languages without search with search
1 36 28
2 9 6
3 0 3
4 0 3

 


File Formats

Many sites now serve PDF, XML and other files along with HTML. Some search engines will index these files: they may serve them by sending them to the client and allowing the browser to launch the creating application or they may attempt to convert them to HTML and serve them in that way. PDF is the most popular non-textual format, with MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint also often served.

Document Formats without search with search
HTML 48 40
text 18 18
XML 2 5
PDF 19 22
PostScript 1 2
MS Word 14 14
WordPerfect 0 3
Excel 6 10
PowerPoint 4 10
ASP 1 2
SGML 0 1
compressed files 0 1
AVI 0 1
QuickTime 0 1
Java 1 1
CFM 0 1
TIFF 1 0
wav 0 0
MP3 0 0
Access 2 0

 


Server Location

Installing a site search tool is easiest on a local server. Administrators working on co-located and especially hosted servers have a much harder time installing site searching, and are significantly less likely to do so.

Server Location without search with search
on-site 17 22
colocated 6 9
hosted 20 9

 


This survey is copyright © 1999 by Search Tools Consulting, and all rights are reserved. The survey was designed, analyzed and reported by Avi Rappoport. Personal information in the survey will be kept private at all times. For reprint permissions or survey data purchase, please contact Search Tools Consulting.