Companies search out search engines

With so many companies tightening their financial belts, tangible evidence of a return on investment has become one of the deal breakers of the new millennium. One enterprise IT purchasing decision that has come under scrutiny for clear ROI is that of an effective search tool.

According to Eric Sall, senior vice-president of marketing at iPhrase in Cambridge, Mass., there is a huge opportunity available for companies to use search technology to increase usability on their sites, drive ROI from online efforts and raise productivity. iPhrase has recently rolled out a new version of its One Step search engine, featuring new content update tools, content and integration tools, security enhancements and extended operating system support.

“It is all about accuracy and usability [of search engines] if you want to drive ROI,” he said.

Jennifer Mitok, the Edmonton-based Web communications specialist at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) is currently weighing the options for her organization’s Web site, as their trial evaluation of the Google search engine expires very shortly. When it comes to ROI, Mitok said, an in-house solution is not the way to go.

“Basically we are looking for a third party solution, primarily because it’s a lot more efficient than us developing our own comprehensive search engine,” she said. “The largest factor is that we need a search engine that can crawl the various databases linked to our external site.”

One of the upsides of sticking with the Google engine is that it uses a “key matches” feature, which allows the webmaster to generate reports on searches.

“If a lot of people are searching for MRI, I can set up Google so that when someone types in MRI, the engine points them right to NAIT’s MRI Web site,” Mitok said.

This ability, Mitok said, is integral to providing good customer service and steering the Web site’s decision makers in the right direction.

John Niland, the Pittsburgh-based Web site administrator of the IKEA Canada site agrees that a good search engine does have an effect on the bottom line.

“It’s extremely important to raising brand awareness on the Web and of course increasing the traffic to our site. Overall, there is a trickle-down effect because a percentage of new site visitors will in the end become new customers,” Niland said.

IKEA Canada would change to a different search engine if it was apparent that the ROI would be significant, Niland said.

“We will really be focusing more directly on the ROI of a search engine and our optimization company once we have e-commerce on our site,” he said. “If a search engine does not perform, you have to be willing to switch and try new things. Basically you have to find where your customers go and target them at the appropriate time.”

A number of search systems are boasting the ability to boost ROI. Among them is Odyssey Development which recently rolled out a COM-based search module designed for the Microsoft Internet Information Server (IIS). This search tool integrates with the IIS architecture to offer developers the ability to manipulate data during the search process. This can help an enterprise tailor search results to its business needs, according to Odyssey officials in Englewood, Colo.

Swiss search vendor Albert recently released its Albert Meaning Interpreter (AMI) Discovery for Lotus Domino. This engine is designed to interpret the meaning behind search requests by analyzing the search query, the content requested and the user, according to Beth Krasna, CEO of Albert, in New York.

With files from Cathleen Moore, IDG News Service.