Can an Elasticsearch alternative stack up?

If you’re looking at this page right now, you already know the importance of equipping your site with a great search and discovery experience. And if you’re considering an open source option like Elasticsearch, you likely need a flexible solution that’s adaptable to your specific use case. 

While it’s true that Elasticsearch, a RESTful search and analytics engine, does indeed cover a great variety of use cases, not every business has the developer strength and know-how to get it up and running at a high level.

Algolia, on the other hand, is a hosted search as a service solution focused on instant, relevant, and personalized search and discovery experiences. 

So, the question remains: is Elasticsearch or Algolia right for you? In this post, we will walk through 3 main questions to guide you through the process:

  • For your users: What kind of experience do you want to build?
  • For your business: Who will be interacting with your solution?
  • For your developers: How much time and resources do you intend to invest in the process?


For users

The end goal of implementing search on your site is to improve the overall user experience, ultimately driving conversions, sales, time on site, and other KPIs. Let’s look at how both Elasticsearch and Algolia help you craft the search experience for your users.


How Elasticsearch works for users

With Elasticsearch, you will need to build your search interface from scratch, which allows you to curate and fine-tune the interface to best serve your users. Elasticsearch generally works best for document search purposes, but with some expertise it can be tailored to any range of use cases. 

Unfortunately, designing and implementing the features that works best for your users may take a significant amount of effort and technical knowledge that most developer teams do not have. Even for teams that do have the technical chops and time, building, testing, and launching the search interface will take several months. If you use Elasticsearch to build user-facing search, be sure all business stakeholders know that it will be a while before you can deliver a great search experience to users and reap the benefits of your hard work. 


How Algolia works for users 

Algolia has been designed from the ground up to power experiences that drive conversions. Algolia uses built-in features like personalization, multi-language capability, typo tolerance, and synonym support to serve the best possible results for each user. 

Algolia improves the user’s search experience in several ways:

  • Get your users to their goals faster. With federated search that tolerates typos and gives search-as-you-type results, the search experience is more intuitive and users are engaged with search from the very beginning. 
  • Meet your users’ needs, regardless of the platform. Deploy a seamless and consistent experience across various devices such as mobile, web, or even voice assistant by integrating with other key platforms and services. 
  • Personalize the experience at the user-level. Use the interactions users have had with your platforms across devices to further personalize the experience each time they return to your site. 

Meeting your users where they are and enabling robust search ultimately drives conversion rates, search use, and decreases bounce rate. 


For businesses

Business teams may not be mired in the day-to-day operation of your search solution, but they will look to it to see how search is supporting business goals. Let’s look at how well Elasticsearch and Algolia support the priorities of your business teams.

How Elasticsearch works for business teams
At a glance, Elasticsearch looks attractive because the initial price is low. However, the total cost of ownership is much higher than the initial cost. When you factor in the cost of building the interface, maintaining the search engine, adding new features, supporting and troubleshooting the engine, and so on, the lifetime cost of building the search engine is much higher. 

Further, with Elasticsearch, search remains a black box for the business teams. Business teams may not have insight into why items and products rank the way they do. Business teams must rely on developers to explain the ranking algorithm, change the algorithm, or add new ranking factors. While the business-developer relationship needs to be strong in any search implementation, it must be especially strong when you use an open-source search engine.

To get business insights from your Elasticsearch data, you will need another tool for data visualization. Whether it’s Kibana (part of the Elastic stack), or another data visualization tool, make sure you count the cost of your analytics tool against the total cost of building the engine. 


How Algolia works for business teams

Algolia can help you better understand what your users need and want, as well as make improvements to your search interface that best drive business results.

  • Give business teams the power to tweak ranking factors and relevance strategy. The Algolia ranking formula can help any user quickly understand why a result is ranked higher than another. Furthermore, business users and technical users can tweak and fine-tune the ranking based on the relevance strategy and business priorities. 
  • Analyze your search data to improve your site. Every time users search on your site, they generate valuable and actionable data. Using Algolia’s built-in analytics dashboard, you can quickly understand how your search is performing, including identifying queries that perform better than others and missed opportunities on your site. Site search analytics are included with Algolia at no additional cost. 
  • Leverage opportunities to promote your products with smart merchandising. Empower your non-technical users with Algolia’s built-in merchandising tools, and make the most of their knowledge of your business by letting them promote the best content and refine their own strategies.

Visual merchandising tool


For engineers

For many companies, the responsibility of designing search for the site will rest with developer teams. You’ll want the developer experience to be  as frictionless as possible for your engineers, creating the quickest overall path to growth. Let’s look at both options to see the sort of experience they will create for your developers. 


How do developers work with Elasticsearch?

Engineers will have to do much of the heavy lifting to get a search interface built on Elasticsearch off the ground. Fortunately, the Elasticsearch online developer community is very active. This community can be a great resource for your engineers to pull from and even contribute to feature development.

For many teams, though, the benefits of Elasticsearch for the engineering team may stop there. Designing a usable, case-specific search interface is a time-intensive process requiring lots of expertise specific to search that many developer teams do not possess. Since building on an open-source platform allows for lots of flexibility, one developer who is experienced in search may handle it differently than another; if the primary developer leaves, the organization may need to “re-learn” how to build and maintain the engine. And the ongoing work of monitoring, maintaining, troubleshooting, and innovating may pull on capacity your teams do not have. 

Elasticsearch is often best suited for organizations with a large, highly skilled development team that has worked on search engines before and will have ongoing resources to maintain the search engine. 


How do developers work with Algolia?

Algolia is designed with developers in mind. Our extensive documentation library includes technical guidance on everything from getting Algolia up and running to building a complex search UI for every platform. 

Algolia supports developers in several key ways:

  • Improve uptime with high-availability infrastructure. Algolia is built on secure, reliable infrastructure, and we offer an industry-leading 99.999% SLA (available on select plans with a 1000x rebate policy). Current API status is always available on the Algolia website. 
  • Accelerate your time-to-implement with our front-end library. Use our InstantSearch libraries to quickly implement a seamless experience that will drive users to convert. Innovations and updates are instantly available to all users through the cloud, at no extra cost. 
  • Get inspiration for any platform or use case. The Algolia Community features a library of projects from Algolia users and the Algolia team to help you get started with any framework, platform, or programming languages you already use. 
  • Take advantage of built-in security. Benefit from a solution with security built-in, which will save you precious time and enable your team to focus on other business needs. 


Drive business growth and impact with Algolia 

Ultimately, deciding between Elasticsearch vs Algolia comes down to a decision on whether to build vs buy your search engine. If you have a core product or service to focus on, consider leaving search to the search experts at Algolia. 

Algolia can affect every aspect of the business from the end users, to business teams, to developers. Read more on how Forrester has evaluated Algolia’s Total Economic Impact and see the effect Algolia can have on your business.


About the authorLouise Vollaire

Louise Vollaire

Product Marketing Manager

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