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Algolia: Picking up where Google Site Search left off

Recently Google has decided to sunset Google Site Search (GSS), their paid service for powering search inside of websites. The service will cease on April 1st 2018 and stop active development on April 1st 2017.

Algolia helps product teams create lightning fast, relevant search, and since the announcement we’ve gotten a lot of questions and interest around how Algolia could serve as a replacement to GSS.

If you don’t have time to read this post, watch our on-demand webinar and learn more about the benefits of moving from GSS to Algolia…

A jack-of-all-trades search solution

For website owners, GSS was a jack-of-all-trades solution, notoriously easy to set up and as powerful as you’d expect a Google search product to be. From website crawling to the actual search UI, everything was handled automatically – all you needed was a small snippet of code.

GSS will be dearly missed, if only for the fact that no technical skills were required to go live with a powerful search.

We’ll talk a little more later about how Algolia compares (spoiler: we require developers 99% of the time), but let’s first look at what GSS did & didn’t do.

Keeping your search up to date

Because GSS was using Google’s default crawling mechanism, you couldn’t control the refresh rate of your pages. As a result, it could take several days for your search results to reflect the latest content on your website, and up to 24 hours when using their (paid) on-demand indexing API.

In contrast, Algolia provides you with an API you can use to push & update your content in realtime. That API is available in many different ways through several libraries and API clients. For e-commerce platforms (Magento, Shopify, etc.) & Content Management Systems (WordPress), we provide out-of-the-box plugins which include automatic indexing & updating requiring no additional software development.

Relevance Fine-tuning

By design, GSS didn’t provide a lot of control over relevancy in search results. The product started under the assumption all websites want to prioritize the same relevance as does, and therefore provided a single algorithm for every website. Unfortunately, it’s rare enough to see two eCommerce websites with the same relevancy algorithm, let alone every website on the web. GSS users could tune search relevancy in three ways: using keywords, weighted labels, and scores. But those knobs and dials were not ideal for improving your global site rankings – in fact you could negatively impact global results relevancy while trying to fix a specific query’s results.

Algolia has a unique way to combine textual & business relevancy, making sure your users always find the right content. In Algolia you have complete control over what we call the “ranking formula” and you can influence more “traditional” things like “typo tolerance” or “word proximity,” but also custom criteria, such as your product popularity in the case of an e-commerce company or the number of comments if you were indexing article content.

Updating your design

GSS has several built-in search page layouts and lets you select the one you’d like to have appear on your website. Most of the time, you want to go further than a simple integration: you want to have the same UI & UX patterns on all your website pages, including the search results page. GSS unfortunately only provides an API to fetch the results, you need to handle the full UI rendering on your end, from scratch.

Algolia provides you with powerful frontend libraries (like instantsearch.js, react-instantsearch or autocomplete.js) to help you build a beautiful & effective search results page, query suggestions, or dropdown menu in no time. Our goal is to reduce the time it takes you to implement incredibly powerful and beautiful looking search. We take User Experience very seriously, whether you’re a developer, product manager or website owner.

Search is a Conversation – Autocomplete and Instant Search

Both GSS & Algolia enable autocompletion, helping your users to find the right content as they type. GSS’s autocomplete feature was very simple: rendering a list of query suggestions as you type.

With Algolia you can build a rich dropdown menu displaying query suggestions but also include actual search results. Algolia goes even further and provides search results in real time with each keystroke, so search feels like a conversation & not an order request).

Navigation & Refinement

GSS provides you with a simple way to categorize your content and refine your end-users search through those categories. To define your categories, you could either add them through your page’s meta-data or by defining an annotation file. Unfortunately, this provides you limited refinement capabilities and makes it almost impossible to create a flexible search experience for all your users.

To solve this, Algolia provides you with a full-featured faceted-search experience, letting you define all the dimensions you want to use for the refinements. Building an Amazon-like refinements sidebar takes a matter of minutes.

In conclusion

Algolia can be a great option for GSS users to consider if you’re serious about search; However it all comes down to what you want to do with Search. If Search is core to your user experience, or you believe it could be with a better search experience, putting in a little extra effort and a few lines of code may be worth it. Outside of our one-click integrations with major content & ecommerce platforms, our team can help guide you through the transition and the choices to make. Sign up below to learn more.

Want to learn more?

Watch our on-demand webinar and learn more about the benefits of moving from GSS to Algolia.

About the author
Sylvain Utard

VP of Engineering


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