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Tips for search-based applications (SBAs)

Search-based applications (SBAs) leverage the strength of a great search engine to deliver relevant, personalized results to users—regardless of where the data is stored. 

In many companies and industries, information pertinent to a particular task or user need may be stored in multiple databases. Many sites do not have a search tool that pulls results from these multiple places simultaneously. This means the user has to search multiple individual subdomains or sitesto find what they need. More likely though, a user will become frustrated easily or quit altogether before they find what they need. 

SBAs can streamline access to multiple sources of differently structured data for a specific task, allowing users to quickly access information with minimal effort. 


The benefits of search-based applications 

Some of the many benefits of using SBAs include:

  • Compatibility with varying data structures. While some traditional search options might be limited to searching the metadata for structured data, SBAs are able to search the content of a range of data types. 
  • Ability to fine-tune relevance. SBAs do more than basic keyword matching to return the best results to users. Businesses can adjust search parameters to prioritize certain products or types of content, improve textual relevance, or better meet the needs of site searchers. 
  • Interactive interfaces. SBAs provide a better visual experience for end users and the business alike. Features like highlighting and cross-database searching allows users to see all relevant information in one clean interface. On the business side, you can use dashboards and other data visualizations to evaluate and fine-tune the search function, helping you create content to fill gaps or re-prioritize ranking factors to improve the relevance of search results. 
  • Natural Language Processing (NLP). NLP capabilities can support advanced search mechanisms like voice to text (and vice versa), in which organizations leverage machine learning and speech recognition to make search more conversational.     


Tips for deploying a search-based application

Following certain best practices will help you get the most out of search-based applications for your business:

Identify business needs

It’s necessary to pinpoint the specific business needs the SBA should address before implementing. Business goals might be:

  • Increasing online conversions by 10%
  • Improving the customer experience on your online store
  • Increasing time spent on site by 20%
  • Reducing the time customer service reps spend answering common customer questions

An SBA can help address all these goals (and more). But in order to get the highest ROI from your search-based application, it’s important to set specific goals and measure your progress toward them. A great search function underlying your SBA will generate the data you need to measure your progress, tweak your strategy, or determine overall success. After you establish your primary business objectives, spend time understanding what type of information needs to be accessible via the application, and where that information is located. 

Consider challenges

Take inventory of the challenges your SBA should tackle. A few challenges might be:

  • Customers looking for certain informational content can only find non-relevant product pages.
  • Customers searching for specific products can only find general informational pages. 
  • Too many customers are leaving the site after performing a search. 
  • Customer service reps spending 25% of their time answering questions that are addressed right on the website. 
  • Customers needing real-time access to information from a large and ever-updating index.

Once you understand the challenges with your current search structure, you can create a robust plan to address these challenges. Match each challenge with a solution offered by the SBA; for example, to address the challenge of finding the right content across the website, make sure your SBA can consolidate data in different formats and search them all instantaneously. To address the challenge your customer service reps are facing, improve your FAQ page and make sure it is highlighted at the top of relevant searches. 

Determine key performance indicators (KPIs)

Trackable performance metrics will help you iterate, tweak, and improve upon your SBA once it goes live. 

Common metrics could include:

  • Search utility: The percentage of website visitors who use the search function. 
  • Time after search: The amount of time spent on the site after a search is performed. 
  • Search conversion rate: The rate at which site searchers purchase products. 
  • Revenue generated by search: The amount of revenue generated per search on your site.
  • Search abandonment rate/search exit: The rate at which customers leave the site immediately after performing a site search. 
  • Search refinement rate: The percentage of customers who go back and change their search query after an unsuccessful attempt. 
  • Conversion speed: The rate at which customers add items to their cart. 
  • Cart abandonment rate: The frequency with which customers leave a full cart without making a purchase. 
  • Number of “no results” queries: The number of queries that generated zero relevant search results. 

The KPIs you choose to focus on will depend on the challenges and business objectives you defined. For example, take an eCommerce store that is struggling to convert site searchers into customers. The highest priorities should be “no results queries,” search exit rate, and search refinement rate. Focusing on these KPIs will help improve the relevance and overall experience of site search. 

A university library, on the other hand, is more concerned with helping people find what they need than driving revenue. The highest priorities should be search utility, search exit rate, and time after search. These KPIs will indicate whether students are using the search and how successful the search is in helping them find the right resources. 

Identify developer needs and establish roles 

Before you can implement an SBA, you need to understand your development resources and in-house expertise. Do you need to form a developer team dedicated to creating, implementing, and maintaining your SBA? Or will the development work be outsourced to another group?

Building an SBA from scratch requires a high level of effort and investment in development—not only to build the initial tool, but to maintain and troubleshoot it over time. Upper level management is often responsible for the ultimate decision of whether to build a solution in-house or buy a search solution from a dedicated provider. Before you get started on either route, make sure you know who owns which parts of the product and the process to ensure a smooth development experience. 

Investing in UI/UX

The user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) of the search tool is key to its success. The design of the SBA should be powerful on the back-end, but intuitive and user-friendly on the front end. 

It’s critical to outline in advance how you want the search to work and how you want it to look. A federated search interface, for example, is a particularly effective back-end search structure. It does the work of pulling diverse content types from multiple indices, and you can control the way the search appears for end users. With highlighting, visualization, and labeling of search results, you can deliver an optimal customer experience without sacrificing speed. 

Other important UI considerations include where, and how, information is positioned on the page. Experiment with different fonts, colors, and other aspects of the visual presentation to improve the user interface and the overall search experience. 

Building vs. buying your search engine

An SBA is only as good as the search tool it is built on. You can choose to build your own or buy a third-party search platform—and each comes with its own benefits and challenges. 

When you build your own search tool, you can customize all aspects of your search. You can build the SBA according to your specific challenges and requirements, and change elements of the search engine on the fly. But this requires a high level of technical-know, and there is a significant cost associated with creating, implementing, and maintaining the hardware and software involved. This can be a challenge for a developer team with little experience building a search engine. Additionally, optimizing for both speed and relevance is not a simple task. 

There’s a much shorter path to recouping value when building an SBA on a third-party search engine or site search solution. However, since not all search engines are created equal, look closely at the options and customizations they offer. Some offer a huge degree of flexibility; others are rigid out-of-the-box tools. Also, you’ll likely spend a considerable amount of time researching the vendor and its support packages.


Getting started with your SBA

A relevant, intuitive, and user-friendly SBA delivers a great customer experience that drives revenue. Watch our demo to see how Algolia powers frictionless search for brands around the world.

About the author
Elliott Gluck

Senior Product Marketing Manager


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