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By Carl Schroeder

An effective Website search tool helps customers find what they need faster and leads to faster return on investment (ROI). Today's consumers are increasingly Internet-savvy, so immediacy and accuracy are critical. If a site visitorís quest fails within three clicks they are likely to shop elsewhere.

Choosing the right information management strategy for your business is a challenge. Companies face a saturated search market and must decide how much to invest in search. Many companies are also confused by the complexity of the technology required just to search their own site. Ideally, adding site search should be as easy as cutting and pasting. This is hardly the reality that most businesses experience, however.

There are two main kinds of site search solutions: installed and hosted. Installed software systems emerged first, providing cutting edge innovations and the best efficiency. These systems delivered on the promise to increase sales and expand customer bases. However, in order for a business to reap the benefits, they had to install, integrate and maintain the software. The initial and ongoing costs for installed search could be in the five- to seven-figure ranges. Businesses with smaller budgets and IT departments were frequently excluded.

Hosted search engines thus evolved out of a pressing demand for cost-effective, maintenance-free search options that were designed with the small enterprise in mind. Search hosting is a remote application service which shifts the significant burdens of software installation and upgrades onto the search host. Its indexing robots can snapshot the information visitors are searching for.

One benefit of using a hosted provider is that they index Websites based on information available to the public on the Internet. In contrast, installed solutions build their indexes inside back-end software, which may contain information a site owner may not want to make searchable. By cataloging a Website over the Internet, hosted providers eliminate this risk.

The advantages of a hosted system can be illustrated easily. Supposed, for example, a bank in the midwest is supporting four websites, each in a different region of the country. In a hosted scenario, the IT director has the instant communication with the search provider enabling her to customize each site. An installed solution likely would require the IT director to handle changes on her own.

There are many things to consider when shopping for a good search hoster.

Price: Price is usually determined by the size of the Website being searched. The more pages searched, the bigger and more expensive the site becomes. Since hosted search vendors essentially lease engines rather than charge heavy sums upfront, they should offer flexible pricing plans that can accommodate the size of your business, whether you are starting from scratch or are experiencing substantial growth. Many vendors will include a "test drive" before buying.

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Carl Schroeder is Director of Search Technologies for PicoSearch.
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