Well, after being on the site for quite awhile, I couldn't help but notice that the search function the site offers, well... is not the best.

Currently, to find any specific question, or any questions regarding a certain subject, I go on to Google and type

site:stackoverflow.com Question Keywords Here

And I get better results than those the native search allows.

Points that I find that could be improved:

  • When sorting by votes, relevance drops to zero.
  • One needs to almost know the exact name of the question in order to find it.
  • Even when sorting by relevance, you often don't get very relevant questions. (Search for [php] how to implement search bar, and you get pretty much anything except for how to implement a simple search bar.)
  • I'm missing a "sort by popularity" feature, as these questions are usually the most linked (canonical questions, questions with good practices explained well, etc).

Could we implement those points? Moreover, could we have a Google Custom Search or a similar service for the time being? I don't think users should use Google to search on Stack Overflow in order to find decent search results.

  • @ShaWizDowArd: No kidding, the point is to have it on the site. Me, as a power user, have no trouble going to a different website and search, but a normal user, or a new user, probably wouldn't. Commented Oct 12, 2012 at 10:06
  • 1
    I always use google custom search if I'm not sure how to phrase the search query... Commented Oct 12, 2012 at 10:27
  • @SingerOfTheFall: And would you call that "ideal"? Commented Oct 12, 2012 at 11:12
  • @Madara, no (I doubt any search is "ideal"), but I find it "good enough" almost always. Can't you use your Sharingan to aid the search, btw? xD Commented Oct 12, 2012 at 11:26
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    Stack Exchange is currently seeking a 'data scientist' to help improve search and other heuristics .. dunno if they found anyone.
    – user50049
    Commented Oct 12, 2012 at 11:30
  • @TimPost: I genuinely think that in that in that part of the site, we are below the quality standard we've set to ourselves. Until such data scientist is found, a better alternative exists out there. Why not use it? Commented Oct 12, 2012 at 13:12

3 Answers 3


There is a new search system in place now! Has been for a while, actually, but this post kinda didn't get touched on that.

You can read up on all the details over in this Meta Stack Overflow post. Be sure to thank Nick Craver if you like the changes implemented by the new search system.


I strongly suggest you take a look at


  1. It has the Google search box you want right there on the page. Or Bing.. or Duck Duck Go.. all right there. Just type and click.

  2. Look closely at the advanced search options. As for

    search for [php] how to implement search bar, and you get pretty much anything except for how to implement a simple search bar.

    Try searching for

    [php] +"search bar" like this

    Judicious use of quotes, and the 'word absolutely must exist in the results' plus operator, might help.

    After recent change in the search engine, the plus operator does not exist any more. Correct search term would be: [php] "search bar" like this

For very broad, generic "I'm just gonna type a bunch of stuff on my keyboard and see what happens" searches, Google is inevitably going to be better because they spider the entire Internet and tally global backlinks. You can count the number of employees and total number of dollars in market cap to see why. :)

  • Thing is, very little (I'm a 35k user with over a year and I haven't noticed that specific feature until you've mentioned it) people would be exposed to that feature. I really like what the php.net search does. If a high enough score match is found, display it. If not, display a Google custom search for the term, and below it their "native" search engine results. I get what I want from their search 100% of the time, even without knowing exactly what I'm looking for. Commented Dec 8, 2012 at 12:47
  • Also, I don't have the search problem, new users do. And they won't learn the cool [tag] search etc tricks you guys offer. They're useful, but unused. Commented Dec 8, 2012 at 12:48
  • By definition new users will be searching the internet before asking a question, yes? And guess what technical q&a website enjoys very high search ranking in, let's say, Google? Commented Dec 9, 2012 at 0:45
  • Sure, like I said, I always use Google to find posts. I just don't think it's correct for us to direct users to use a third party search engine to look for results on our site. Commented Dec 9, 2012 at 9:41
  • I see what you're saying, but I think we should be teaching people to fish -- that is, how to use general public Internet search engines well and first when researching anything -- rather than spoon-feeding them everything. That's how they become better Internet citizens. Commented Dec 11, 2012 at 12:07
  • also bear in mind that your admonition to "sort by popularity" can be very dangerous: blog.stackoverflow.com/2012/01/the-trouble-with-popularity that's why we have to have such strict moderation. What is popular, is not always what is helpful or useful, but the most fun and entertaining. Commented Dec 11, 2012 at 12:09
  • While it's true that we don't want to encourage spoon feeding, it's that approach that caused the php jquery and other tags where the expert:noob ratios are lower to become such a mess. Even the users who do search can't find meaningful results on the site, so they don't think their question is a dupe (of a dupe, of a dupe, of a dupe). I don't deny the fact that people should search on public internet search engines prior to asking, I'm saying that they don't, in practice. Commented Dec 11, 2012 at 13:18

Getting a search right is very complex. Much more so when a site becomes internationalised. I disagree that the main engine will be better developed in-house - it's a clear case of "Reinventing the square wheel". That is, unless SEI wants to enter the Search Market...

A relatively cheap, but better solution would be to implement the GSS API or use a search appliance if we need the search to be specially database bound and not depend on Google indexing.

I am sure that Duck Duck Go also has alternative solutions.

  • I never said the implementation must happen by the Stack Exchange team. It's perfectly acceptable to use a third-party robust, mature solution. I merely state that the current implementation is bad. Commented Dec 8, 2012 at 12:45

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