When I stumbled across Algolia years ago, I knew it was going to be incredible for my business, MyCreativeShop.com. As a small business owner, increasing efficiency is very important to me. I knew that Algolia could take work off my plate and do it better than we ever could.
I could talk at length about the technical problems Algolia has helped us solve, but the most exciting part has been the ease of optimizing our site for search engines. Our business relies heavily on inbound traffic to high-converting pages. The code behind these was shaky considering how important they are to the business. Algolia helped us create an efficient, clean code base, create a better user experience and maintain the search traffic that we’ve worked so hard to earn.
If you run an e-commerce site, you know that a large product catalog creates a lot of SEO opportunity, but also plenty of challenges. Before we implemented Algolia, we were struggling with a slow browsing experience, inaccurate results and less-than-ideal on-page SEO.
These are common SEO problems for the e-commerce sites (and just the tip of the iceberg). I have a unique perspective on this topic because I’m the business owner and the lead developer (yeah, we are a pretty small team) at MyCreativeShop.com. This means I have to understand the business implications of SEO and get in the weeds to make changes.
But regardless of the size of your company, the struggle to solve these problems are often the same:
As the business owner I demand that the user experience be great with absolutely NO SEO risk. Every little bit of traffic matters and it gets a lot of my focus. As the developer, I see new shiny tools all of the time and I get eager to leverage them, especially when they make my life easier. I value efficiencies in coding but admittedly don’t always see where code fits into the business’ bigger picture.
I realized immediately that Algolia could make both roles happy—really happy. Here’s how:
- For the business owner: Algolia gives your development team the flexibility to create a user experience and implement on-page SEO in whatever way is best for your company and customers. Think of it as a tool that allows your development team to deliver exactly what you or your design team has envisioned, but in a fraction of the time. And it’s infinitely scalable and always available.
- For the developer: Gone are the days of dreading making customizations to your product catalog just to try to meet the seemingly crazy demands of management. As a developer, I know the pain of working in an antiquated product catalog environment and it’s terrible. Move your data set to Algolia and start using their well documented API to handle everything search and catalog related. The ease of integration is incredible.
As I began to integrate Algolia, it became clear to me that this was going to give us an incredible amount of flexibility. I took one day—yes, literally only one day—and integrated our data with Algolia. Within four days, I threw away our old catalog code and rewrote everything in our catalog from the ground up. Once our data was synced, I could use the incredible API to power all of our catalog searching, browsing and filtering that historically had been so incredibly difficult to manage. Instantly, any problems with speed and accuracy of the search results just went away.
More pageviews, more traffic, more business
Moving to Algolia has been easy from a technical perspective, but what about the business side?
Since integration, we’ve seen that visitors who land on our product catalog convert to paying customers at a 38% higher rate than before. We attribute this to speed of browsing the products. Additionally, pages viewed per session have increased over 200% thanks to a better user experience.
Algolia allows users to leverage either ‘front end search’ or ‘back end search.’ (You can read about each here). We use a combination of both search methods because we offer search in multiple areas of our website and application.
The most critical part of our website is our design templates. These pages drive high-intent traffic and are key to driving new customers. It’s vital that all the pages in this section—the template pages, the category pages and the search result pages—are well-optimized for search. We need to be able to control on-page SEO down to tiny factors like URL structure.
For our front facing design templates, we felt that back end search was the smartest decision for us for a few reasons:
- It removes all risk from an on-page SEO perspective.
- The buzz term today is ‘Server Side Rendering’, or SSR. Using Algolia this way allows to generate our HTML on the server (true SSR) and then display it to the browser ensuring that all web crawlers see the it the same way.
- It gives us a level of confidence where we know exactly what the crawlers are analyzing.
- It allowed us to maintain our existing URL structure which was critical.
We also use search inside our password-protected web app. SEO is not a factor, but user experience is hugely important. For this, front end search via Algolia’s instantsearch.js libraries was the obvious choice since:
- It’s incredibly fast
- There are built in widgets to help us build the UI really quickly
- We had no SEO concerns or legacy URL structures that needed to be maintained.
In just a few short weeks, Algolia gave us the ability to create the user experience that we wanted. Speed and accuracy improved significantly. And we have precise control over exactly how we display results – either by using a true server side rendering (SSR) approach or by leveraging Algolia’s awesome instantsearch.js libraries.
To me this flexibility is really the unsung hero of what Algolia is. It allows us to sleep well knowing that we are in total control of how customers are interacting with our product catalog and how crawlers are viewing the results.
If you are struggling with product navigation and search, give Algolia a look. You’ll be amazed at how what was once hard becomes incredibly simple.