Enabling users to find information quickly and easily in a content-rich site.

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Many companies are finding that their Web site serves users not just as a sales and marketing tool or online store but as a repository for large volumes of information accessed frequently by expert users such as researchers. Though clear and concise navigation is essential to the ease of use of any Web site, a customized search tool that assists with rapid drill-down can significantly enhance the site experience for such expert users, who are often a company's most loyal customers.

A customized search tool can be structured to target the search to a specific section of the site, a particular type of information (a product manual, for example) or content that was created in a particular date range, file format or language. In the past, this type of customized search would have required either an extremely complex programming foundation or expensive custom programming overlaid on an existing Web site.

Today's powerful and more affordable—or, in the case of open-source, free—content management systems provide a solid foundation for this type of search. Many have a built-in basic search function that allows for a broad set of results, typically sorted by relevance to the search terms. Additional specialized customization can often be added to this basic framework with a relatively modest programming cost.

A good customized search, just like good navigation, is best designed by investigating and testing with typical end users.

It is still considered good practice to put a general search box on all pages of a Web site. The customized search can be made visible only in relevant sections of the site or on all pages.

Siobhan Kelleher is director of client services and digital media at Sametz Blackstone Associates (, a Boston-based strategic communications consulting firm.

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