Companies lose sight of search on own sites

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Despite huge investments in search engine advertising and search engine optimization, nearly 30% of companies spend nothing on search technologies deployed on their own Web sites.

So-called enterprise search directs users once they arrive at a marketer's site and typically includes sophisticated site navigation, content search and commerce search.

The lack of enterprise search tools can mean that online visitors within spitting distance of making a purchase abandon the marketer's site because they cannot find what they want. Along with losing sales, such sites are less likely to convert prospects to customers. Either way, difficult-to-search sites undercut the marketer's paid search investments.

JupiterResearch's recent "Site Search Deployment: Tactics for Improving Search Effectiveness" report found that 28% of companies with revenue of $50 million or more have allocated no money for enterprise search. Of those that have invested, most (79%) are relying on either in-house or open source search tools rather than working with an enterprise search technology vendor.

"Too many companies are still trying to employ search using homegrown solutions," said Eric Peterson, site technologies and operations analyst at JupiterResearch. He said enterprise search is complex, suggesting marketers are better served using an outside vendor.

"The challenge is that marketers like Dell and HP have complex, highly structured product databases that are best served by commerce search, but they also have abundant information on these products," Peterson said. "Combining content and commerce together in an application allows searchers to find what they're looking for quickly and get them to the end goal, which is buying."

Expected to grow

Enterprise search is expected to grow as more companies attempt to organize information online to better serve customers. "There's a screaming need for this type of capability," said John Rueter, FAST Search & Transfer senior VP-marketing.

FAST's enterprise search clients include blue-chip b-to-b marketers such as Dell Inc., IBM Corp., Reuters and Vodafone. "There are a handful of Fortune 100 companies that have deployed FAST across the entire organization," Rueter said. That includes a single global search solution, uniting sites within the company that are in different languages.

FAST Search & Transfer, Endeca and Verity are among about a dozen major players-and many smaller vendors-providing enterprise search technology, which typically is sold either hosted, with a license fee, or unhosted, with a maintenance fee.

Not to be left out, search engine giant Google has its own version of enterprise search. The Google Search Appliance is a piece of hardware that has search technology built in.

Dave Girouard, general manager-enterprise at Google, said the GSA can be set up in less than a day, making it quick to implement. He said enterprise search software platforms require customized installation and ongoing consulting to integrate the software. "A lot of the other vendors sell toolkits that allow you to build a search engine; we sell you the search engine," Girouard said.

He added that customers like Google's enterprise product because they are already familiar with the main Google engine. "Many people come to your site via Google, so why not give them the same [search] experience once they get to your site," Girouard said. "The experience the customer has is consistent."

Jupiter's Peterson said that site search capabilities seem to have a strong positive effect on customer satisfaction, conversion and online revenue.

Early success

One marketer that has had early success with enterprise search is Thomas Publishing Co. Its Thomas Industrial Network in July launched a new Web site called in order to index industrial suppliers' Web sites and combine that with Thomas' directory information. "We're using it to drive Web results for industrial search," said Monica Lavin, executive director of ThomasNet.

FAST's AdVisor software aggregates information from data sources such as publisher content and advertising content for Internet Yellow Pages, b-to-b verticals, online classifieds and traditional publishers. Verizon Information Services, a new client, will also use AdVisor to power its Web site.

Enterprise search also can help marketers leverage the information they gain to sell customers other products and services, such as accessories for the product being purchased. "They're using it as a tool to drive sales in addition to being a tool to find the right product," said Whit Andrews, a research director at Gartner Group.

ThomasNet's Lavin agreed: "It's really about providing conversion [for our industrial supplier customers]. We focus on the industrial market and bring buyers and suppliers together at the product information level. We help them convert those people to customers."

FAST Search & Transfer recently introduced another product, FAST ImPulse, an out-of-the-box enterprise search software product.

Providing a unified view of what customers and prospects are looking for, and adapting results based on this activity, are among the biggest benefits of enterprise search technology, Rueter said.

"[Say] I've got a high-margin item I want to promote," Rueter said. "Maybe I want to push that to up-sell the individual." FAST's ImPulse tool will make sure this product shows up during the search, he said.

Cut customer service costs

Employing enterprise search can also cut down on customer service costs. User-friendly, natural language processing search for common queries can reduce call center expenses. In addition, sophisticated search and browse functions are becoming critical for marketers with Web sites containing tens of thousands of products.

These tools are also beneficial to internal users. Call center and sales employees both benefit from the ability to quickly search within their company site for in-depth information, which may result in less need for training and less time spent on the phone with customers. "You can quantify immediate benefits to the marketer," Gartner's Andrews said.

Prices for enterprise search solutions vary considerably. According to experts, a low-end solution can cost up to $100,000. This figure includes licensed software, service and a certain level of functionality, such as the ability to spider static documents, incorporate databases, incorporate keyword search and manage word variations.

For about $175,000 to $350,000, marketers can expect to get additional functions. In particular, these systems increase the relevancy of searches by examining syntax and semantics. They can also offer multiple language support. Systems costing $1 million or more support multiple thousands of concurrent users and provide sophisticated relevancy modeling, automatic categorization and natural language capabilities.

Google's entry-level product costs $32,000; however, depending on the number of pages being indexed, it can cost as much as $600,000.

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