One Search to Rule Them All

November 12, 2010

Over the past couple of months the I.T. department had received several inquires about not being able to find specific content on our website. After getting some time to test the Search Functionality myself I had to concur that what had been implemented at the launch of the website two years ago was not going to suffice.  If the website was going to be a mixture of informational and scholarly content it would be nice for people to actually be able to find the information they were looking for.

With Penn.Museum being developed in a popular Content Management System I searched high and low for a search module which would fit our exact needs and found a couple to be quite adequate in gathering and displaying search results. Then arose another problem, the search results for this module would only pull from content which was submitted to the main Content Management System on Penn.Museum. It would not index and query for web pages on all of our other sites, CMS’ and micro-sites including this blog. If someone had searched for “Iraq” on our main website they would not get any results from our Iraq’s Ancient Past website, any information pertaining to Iraq from this blog or any other references from any of our other sites which are not apart of our main Content Management System. It seemed rather silly to me that we have a wealth of web content on a extensive variety of subjects and people were not able to access all of it  in an easy and intuitive way.

So instead of looking for an internal way of indexing all of our web content and being able to search it I figured why not use a company that has already done the hard part for us (no reason to re-invent the wheel).  Google Custom Search is an invaluable tool for organizations that have the same problem we encountered; web content in a variety of places, in multiple CMS’ and static HTML files. Any web page which is indexed by Google on your domain is query-able on your Custom Search Engine and since we are a non-profit organization we are exempt from having to display Google Ad’s along with our search results or paying a use fee.

In a perfect scenario we would have one CMS and have all of our web content stored in it.  Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect scenario and have web content dating back to the mid and late 90’s. Our most popular web page is Write Like a Babylonian and is written in a CGI script that would not function with any of the major PHP based CMS systems out there today. We have a bunch of archived sites that are coded in regular HTML. We have several sites, including this blog, that use WordPress as a CMS. We have dozens of back issues of Expedition Magazine.  So you may be able to start to better understand our search plight.

I’m glad we came to the conclusion to use a Custom Search Engine from Google and hope you find your search experience on Penn.Museum better then it was previously. Feel free to try it out http://penn.museum/search.html.