IBM boosts search in WebSphere Commerce Server

IBM next month will ship new versions of its WebSphere Commerce Express server aimed at both large and small-to-midsize businesses (SMBs). The versions will come with a search-engine optimization feature that enables spidering technology within popular search engines, such as Google and Yahoo.

The new search capability, to be included in WebSphere Commerce 5.6.1 and the Express version of the product, allows search engines to index the pages of e-commerce sites in a way that allows them to appear higher on the list of results. The new feature also increases the number of Web site pages returned from a search, benefiting both consumers and sellers, IBM officials said.

"This [search capability] is important because when you have a personalized site -- one that dynamically generates pages -- it is hard for spidering technology of the search engines to actually index your pages because they are not static pages, they are dynamic," said Craig Stevenson, manager in charge of Strategy and Planning for IBM's e-Commerce and multichannel retailing solutions group. "So over time, with this technology in place, an increasing number of pages will continue to be indexed."

The Express version of the product comes bundled with the WebSphere Application Server, the Express version of DB2, a developer license, staging server, and around-the-clock technical support. The full-blown version also comes with the WebSphere Application Server, but with the full-blown version of DB2.

Explaining the nuts and bolts of the search capability, Stevenson said the improved version uses URL mapping as a way to allow search engines to index dynamic pages. It also has a site-map capability, which provides an entry point for the search engine crawler to more easily follow the links within Web pages. The product's page-content optimization technology helps facilitate keyword modifications so that the page is ranked higher in search engine results, he said.

Some users see the new searching feature as a welcome relief, indicating it is what the product has needed over the last few years.

"This has been one of the criticisms of the WebSphere Commerce platform for some time," said John Howard, president of Carrot Ink. "Some have complained the content is usually six directories deep on the server and Google likes to ignore that stuff. So it is good news they are finally addressing this issue."

The new version comes with tools that help corporate IT shops isolate and test specific elements such as promotions, content, and images, to determine the impact that a specific change has on the behavior of customers. For instance, a retailer selling household appliances can change its home page regularly and still be able to track customer's purchasing decision changes.

Expected to ship in about 30 days WebSphere Commerce Business Edition 5.6.1 will cost US$125,000 per processor, while the Professional Edition costs US$80,000 per processor. WebSphere Commerce-Express 5.6.1 is priced at US$20,000 per processor and includes a year's worth of maintenance, a staging server, and development license.