How much will a search engine cost?

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As Web sites get bigger, search engines are becoming a necessity. But how big should the engines be, and how complex?

This month's Web Price Index asked Web developers and ad agencies what it would cost for sites to install search capability.

A small site, such as the hypothetical ACME Sprockets, frequently can get away with a simple, off-the-shelf solution, with a median price of about $4,300, according to developers participating in the survey.

Medium-size sites may need the computing power of an existing branded search engine, at a median cost of $11,695. A full-out search engine and database system will carry a median price of $70,200.

As sites get more sophisticated, search engines will increasingly be used to generate pages on the fly, responding immediately to user inquiries.

"Most of the things we do have some sort of search engine component," said Debra Bean, creative partner with the Leap Partnership, Chicago.

Developers say that marketers should think about how they want their customers to use the site, and how their customers will want to get information. Only then should they determine what kind of search engine they want and how sophisticated it should be.

"We think it's important that the information be sorted for the consumer," Ms. Bean said. "We would want to get as extensive as we could with the database to give the consumer the most relevant information possible."

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