Google recently announced enhanced snippet functionality which enables you to jump to content you are looking for faster (perhaps on the back of Bing which also provides sophisticated page summaries and in page links).

It seems that they have added some really nice functionality for searching sites which have integrated forums.  e.g. in the following search. . .

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. . .you can see that the first match is a question/answer from http://social.answers.microsoft.com (Microsoft’s online forum), but what is clever is that Google also shows 3 other related questions from the site, along with the number of posts each has associated with it. . .

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Multiple sites

Think about that for a second – this is not data which is own by Google, instead they have intelligently extracted it from the page and exposed it directly in the search results as ‘Number of posts’ and ‘Date of post’ fields.  This means that they can generate similar fields from other forum based websites and also show posts from those sites in your search results. . .

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Search using date range

Many people use an on site search (such as that on social.answers.microsoft.com) to perform advanced searches using data fields which are not normally available to search engines.  e.g. if you want to search for forum posts within a defined date range. Since Google has extracted date information from the page, it is now capable of offering similar functionality from within the advanced search page. . .

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. . . so you can instantly search all related forums for questions posted within the desired date/time range.  Pretty cool stuff :-)

Custom developed ‘on site’ search becoming redundant?

Many companies invest in on site search solutions, which in my opinion rarely do as good a job of determining relevance and popularity as search engines do.  I have for a long time thought that the focus of web site owners should be in helping the search engines understand which content is most relevant (through good SEO), and then let them innovate with algorithm improvements, search interface enhancements and other exciting new features to make searching easier.  Whilst Google holds the worldwide search engine market share, fierce competition from Bing and other search engines is accelerating innovation within the world of search – why bother trying to develop you own custom on site solution when you can take advantage of state of the art search technology coming out of the giants?

Many web sites provide custom search solutions to enable their customers to perform advanced searches (like filtering results based on date), but as the search engines start to extract this information from web pages and provide that functionality to their users, will ‘on site’ search become redundant?  Or at least powered by the external search engines?