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Making the Decision

Which search engine you select depends in part on whether you prefer the timely, but resource-hungry, grepping approach or the faster, CPU-friendly, indexing approach. Regardless of the approach you pick, you should evaluate several requirements before selecting your engine:

  • How easy is it to maintain?

    Indexing engines take more maintenance by their very nature. But if maintaining your search engine means remembering to update variables or rerun indexes when new information is added, you need to decide if you're willing to spend the time. By the same token, if your grepping engine looks at all directories on your site, you need to keep that in mind when creating new directories. The best search engine is probably one that you can set and forget.

  • Does it automatically recurse directories?

    This is a security question closely related to maintenance concerns. If the engine needs to be told explicitly what to search for, you will spend more time maintaining it. If it automatically searches new directories, you need to be aware of sensitive or password-protected information when creating new ones.

  • Does it honor access control files?

    These files are a simple way to control access to information on your site, but if your search tool gives users access to these files or their summaries, security is breached. At best, users are frustrated if they cannot access the files that turn up in an index.

  • Does it reject searches for garbage, noise, or stop words?

    No matter which type of engine you select, you don't want to waste resources running down all instances of the word "the" on your site.

  • Does it allow for complex searches?

    A good search engine will at least allow for Boolean searches and searches that are not case-sensitive. The capability to search for regular expressions is also desirable. More sophisticated engines evaluate word proximity or enable users to search on concepts.

  • Does it index offsite links?

    You have to make up your own mind as to whether you want your engine to index such links.

  • Does it provide a context so that the user can evaluate the suitability of the found file?

    At a minimum, the search engine needs to offer a hyperlink to the relevant file. It is more helpful, however, if a summary of the file is available, especially if the files are large.

  • Does it present search results in small groups or in one big list?

    To avoid overwhelming your users with a huge results page that takes forever to download, some control is needed. The engine can either present the results in small groups, offering a link to the next set, or enable the user or Webmaster to control the number of files returned by any one search.

  • Does it enable you to capture information about what users are searching for?

    You can better design your site to serve your users if you know just what they are looking for. Data on user searches can be a very important tool in determining the organization of your site.



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