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8/3/2006
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Hot Apps Review: Picosearch

What's the right price for a search engine on your Web site? How does free sound?

So you've created the perfect Web site for your personal or small business visitors. Wouldn't it be cool if your site had its very own search engine — sort of a mini-Google — especially if it's free? If so, based on the various search engines I've used over the years, the best alternative for my money (or blissfully for the lack of it) currently is Picosearch.

The process is so simple. Add a snippet of mindlessly easy HTML code to your Web site's search page and then have Picosearch index your site. You can design your site's search page so that it blends into the rest of your site and set other options. Regardless, your site's visitors will be able to search your site within minutes of beginning to set up your personal search engine.

But not so fast! Your most important consideration is whether to offer your visitors a search feature at all. Consider two mini-case studies. My own Web site contains more than 100 HTML text documents, some of which can be reached only after readers drill down to the desired page with four or more mouse clicks. Meanwhile, a Web site I maintain for a client has about half that many HTML pages, most of which are just one or two hyperlinks off the main page.

My own site is sufficiently large and complex that I added a search engine. My client's site is so easy to navigate that adding a search engine that would detour visitors to a search page would mostly just take them away from the site' content — not a good thing.

Picosearch reports the search terms used by your site visitors. These reports almost tempt me to remove the search feature from my own Web site. My visitors tend to be techie-savvy and literate, but more often than not they enter search terms that miss the mark so widely that they probably never find site content that meets their needs.

Picosearch offers both manual and automatic reindexing of your site's documents. When I add significant content to a site, I usually manually reindex the site right away. Doing so is as easy as entering my account number or email address plus a password, followed by a couple of mouse clicks. Otherwise, I let the automatic reindexing do its thing. However, if I haven't added content to my site in awhile, automatic reindexing seems to go away until I reset Picosearch options.

One thing I like most about Picosearch is the power that it offers more technically proficient site visitors. As a simple example, visitors who are tracking down one of my books and know the exact title can zero into the right Web pages by enclosing the title in quotation marks, while others can enter a not-so-precise phrase and still find on-target results. I added a few hints to my visitors about how to use features like this one.

Rarely is there a free lunch. But in the case of Picosearch and competitors in this category including FreeFind and Google Site Search, the price is cheap enough for many of us. For Picosearch, that price is sponsored links on the search results page that your visitors see. These text-only links are clearly marked and reasonably few, though they often have little or nothing to do with a visitor's search of your site despite their personalized wording that attempt to tie the search term to sponsored destinations.

Whether you are willing to accept sponsored links or are willing to pay to avoid them, Picosearch is best of breed in the personal-site search engines these days..


Picosearch
Picosearch LLC
www.picosearch.com
Price: Free
Summary: Give visitors to your Web site a powerful search feature for free

J.W. Olsen has been a full-time IT author, columnist, editor, and freelance book project manager with more than 1000 editorial credits since 1990, and has provided computer, Web site, and editorial services to clients since 1985. He welcomes feedback via the response form at www.jwolsen.com.

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