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Once upon a time, Google offered an easy, ad-free way for businesses to integrate search functionality into their own websites. For a monthly fee, companies could use Google Site Search to index their websites and allow visitors to search the site’s contents. This allowed companies with limited resources to provide powerful search functionality without building their own system.
Google discontinued Google Site Search in April 2017 in favor of a new solution called Custom Search Engine (CSE). In the wake of this announcement, companies have to decide whether to try out Google’s new site search tool or move to another site search provider.
Read on to learn more about Google Custom Site Search and the pros and cons of potential alternatives to Google’s site search tools.
Google Custom Search Engine, the successor to Google Site Search, allows web developers to create custom search engines for their websites and external content.
The solution offers several benefits:
However, Google CSE can also create challenges for many businesses:
For businesses that want more control over their search results or do not want to display advertisements in their search results, there are a number of alternatives.
Some run as on-premises platforms, while others are SaaS solutions hosted in the cloud. The solutions vary in regard to capabilities, benefits, and the industries and types of content they are best-suited for.
SaaS search solutions are typically the simplest for developers to integrate into their websites.
Most offer APIs that programmers can use to specify where and how a custom search tool should appear within a website, as well as which types of content it should display. The SaaS site search solution handles the rest of the work by indexing the site’s content and delivering search results automatically. Handing off the responsibility of hosting and maintenance to a SaaS provider reduces strain on internal developer teams. Those teams can be comprised of fewer people overall and spend more time on business innovations and less time keeping things working smoothly. In addition, operational costs also go down, since infrastructure such as storage and servers are no longer needed. The best SaaS providers should ensure high service reliability and be equipped to scale with your business needs.
Although all SaaS solutions confer measurable benefits over on-premise solution, there are a number of other features that might make your site search partnership even more profitable. Features such as distributed search infrastructure, multi-language optimization, and the ability to power multiple channels such as web, mobile, and voice, may help a SaaS solution to stand out among others.
There are a number of providers to choose from. Providers like SiteSearch 360, Swiftype, and, of course, Algolia serve a range of use cases. Then, there are also specialized e-commerce solutions like Cludo and Klevu. Regardless of the branding, however, you should pay attention to the pricing model (some prices vary by pages indexed and queries), personalization features, analytics capabilities, ease of customization and implementation, and the overall reliability. In addition, some all-purpose solutions have a range of integrations with a number of content management systems and e-commerce platforms. Make sure your chosen tool is willing to partner with you to provide the most tailored experience.
Major public cloud providers also offer custom site search solutions. These services are fully hosted in the cloud, but they differ from the SaaS options described above because they are part of larger cloud-computing platforms. These services can be an attractive search solution for companies that already use a major cloud provider for other needs, like virtual server hosting or other general-purpose cloud computing. While it may be simpler for your company to work with one less vendor, these solutions are often nearly impossible to customize to your specific business needs.
There are two popular competitors in this space:
CloudSearch, the custom search service provided by Amazon Web Services (AWS), offers a great deal of configurability and boasts advanced features, such as highlighting and natural language support. However, indexing can be a hassle, as new fields are not searchable until they are indexed, and it can only search one index at a time. Azure Search, which is hosted on the Microsoft Azure cloud, offers AI-powered customized search results based partly on the same engine that drives the company’s Bing search platform. Pricing for both options depends on a variety of factors, such as storage and geographic region, and may be hard to nail down upfront. In addition, neither solution provides UI customization for business users to control the experience or analytics capabilities
Many content management systems (CMS) or e-commerce platforms come with a native search solution pre-packaged for your use. But you shouldn’t default to default search without making sure it meets all of your needs. Let’s look at these options.
If you build your website using WordPress, a massively popular open source Content Management System (CMS), you can use WordPress’ built-in search widget for indexing site content. You can place the widget wherever you want on your site and alter the search bar header. But that’s pretty much it.
Most other major CMS platforms, such as Joomla and HubSpot, also offer built-in site search functionality. The upside? One less vendor to deal with. The downside? Overall, they don’t offer a robust and personalized search algorithm, and the breadth of features is typically lacking. Luckily, most third-party SaaS search solutions can be integrated into any CMS platform with ease.
Some e-commerce platforms, such as Magento, Shopify and Prestashop, also offer built-in search solutions. While these search solutions are appealing because they don’t require any additional installation or cost, they cannot provide relevant e-commerce results with the same speed and quality as a customizable, standalone site search solution. The recommended path to a robust e-commerce search on those platforms is to extend them using the plugin of a standalone search solution.
As an alternative to the SaaS site search solutions described above, businesses can also create and deploy a search tool on their own server. But be warned, deploying an open source solution requires intensive work, as the search system needs to be built from scratch. In addition, the responsibility for implementation, maintenance, scaling and upgrading the system falls solely on the site or business. And if something goes wrong, there is no professional support service to turn to–unless you pay for it. Overtime, these costs can add up to make the total cost of ownership higher than a hosted solution.
However, these open source tools are free to download and use. For many of these tools, the open source developer community is highly active, and your company can benefit from features developed in the community. Still, this option is best suited for those with significant resources and knowledge of how to create an effective search algorithm from scratch.
Two popular open source solutions are Solr and Elasticsearch. While both solutions will work with virtually any site, you will need technical knowledge to implement and maintain them. For most smaller sites (or larger sites with higher priorities), this sort of upkeep could be an unnecessary investment. In addition, if you intend to use these solutions for consumer-grade search, keep in mind that it will require significant investment in both the backend and front-end of the site.
Thanks to the void left by Google site search, companies have a long list of solutions to choose from. Making that decision can certainly be difficult.
With some site search solutions tailored to specific verticals—e.g. SearchSpring, EasyAsk, SLI and Nextopia all market to e-commerce sites—it might make sense to choose a search platform designed specifically for your industry. However, many seemingly “general” site search solutions may provide all of the tools you need for success. You should make sure the solution matches your site’s needs, not just your vertical.
When it comes to site search solutions that are ready to use out-of-the-box, there are several factors to weigh when deciding which of the many options available best fits your needs:
If you’re seeking a powerful site search solution that is simple to install and configure with little-to-no developer experience, Algolia is the leading choice. As a fully hosted, SaaS search solution, Algolia’s search functionality can be integrated into websites and mobile apps quickly and easily using APIs, advanced front-end libraries, and a crawler if need be. In addition, Algolia personalizes search results based on users’ individual needs while still delivering extremely fast performance.
To see Algolia in action on your site, watch our demo, which gives overviews all of Algolia’s premium features and professional customer support.