Internal search: benefits, tips, and getting started with custom internal site search

Today, it’s no secret that juggernauts like Google, Amazon, and Netflix set a high bar for search. As a result, users expect to search for what they want whenever they want and get immediate, relevant results.

Unfortunately, many sites and businesses consider search an afterthought rather than a business tool. If your website has a generic search or unoptimized search tool, you might be driving users away from your site and costing your business money.

Don’t let your site search be an afterthought—turn it into a strategic asset that drives your business forward. Start optimizing your internal site search to stay ahead of the competition and meet your visitors’ high expectations. They will surely thank you.

Internal site search under the microscope

A custom internal site search helps you stay competitive by providing a business-tailored search engine that connects users to site content or product catalogs with speed and relevance.

With custom site search, businesses can test, tweak, and iterate the search UX to ensure it is always top-notch for users.

Here’s what to look for:

  • Search engines use both precision and recall to deliver results. Balancing these can be challenging, but essential for meeting user needs.
  • Fast response time is critical, because studies show that even a delay of a fraction of a second in search results can cause significant drop-offs. That can potentially cost millions in lost revenue for ecommerce sites.
  • A user-friendly interface will keep your internal search’s design simple, clean, and easy to navigate.
  • Dynamic filters, or facets, let users pinpoint results based on specific attributes in larger, less structured search indexes.
  • New AI personalization models use advanced algorithms to identify user attributes, driving more relevant results.
  • Helpful query suggestions (also known as autocompletions) guide users with automatic suggestions and typo tolerance.
  • Query categorization is a unique form of AI that predicts which category a user’s query belongs to so you can customize the page to attract that audience.
  • Insightful analytics not only improve relevance but also help identify areas for improvement, like no-results queries or poorly performing queries.
  • Customizable result prioritization is a must to let you put certain results above others because of business priorities, even if they match the query slightly less than other potential results.
  • Always provide useful alternative results, even when exact matches aren’t available, ensuring users stay engaged.
  • With mobile compatibility, the search experience will be seamless across all devices.

How does internal search benefit customers?

Custom site search elevates traditional search into a rewarding and satisfying experience for your users. There are a number of benefits for each site visitor:

Reduces friction in the search experience

Custom internal search enables a streamlined and more efficient search process. Most modern websites and apps are chock-full of information organize in multiple formats across different microsites and subdomains.

Even if your site is meticulously organized, the vast majority of website or app users don’t know your layout and many won’t spend much time trying to figure it out. In fact, according to a closed Forrester Research study, 43 percent of website visitors go immediately to an internal search box when they open a website. And that’s a conservative estimate — more recent studies suggest even more website visitors go to ecommerce sites specifically with the intention of immediately searching, and that number is growing every year. Thus, a properly optimized and relevant search function is the quickest way to connect them to what they need, thus making it far more likely that they’ll actually spend money with you (anecdotal experiences have reported up to three times more likely). A custom search tool powerfully connects users with a strong purchase intent to their needs without requiring them to perform extensive site exploration or trial-and-error searches.

Provides better relevance for each query

Unfortunately, users are often faced with an overabundance of vague or off-target search results, too few results, or, in some cases, not even a single search result. If a search engine is implemented without considering the expectations of the customer and the industry as a whole, your search experience will suffer and your site visitors will notice. And when customers encounter a bad search experience, they remember it.

Some frustrations from the Twitterverse

A custom internal site search eliminates these customer pain points by providing relevant results to users. Relevance can be broken down into two main buckets: matching and ranking.

Matching means finding applicable records for a query. To do this, the site search must tolerate user errors like typos and alternate phrasings. People frequently misspell queries — consider the countless ways people have tried to Google “Britney Spears.” Search engines handle these errors in various ways, and it’s essential to find a solution that fits your business without becoming a time sink, like adapting to natural language characteristics and partial word matching so the right results are found for every user query.

Ranking means putting the best matches at the top of the results. The best site search tools understand users’ online behavior and cater to their expectations and needs. For modern site search, personalization based on user profiles can drive optimized ranking. Additionally, you could integrate learning to rank algorithms to automatically refine and improve result rankings over time based on user interactions and queries using machine learning. This continuous learning process ensures results are increasingly tailored to each user’s expectations, leading to happier visitors and higher conversion rates.

Enhances customization and personalization

Search personalization is a significant advantage across various industries. It drives business growth and enhances user engagement because it legitimately connects customers with what they want to buy, even when the search intent is broader than you’d like. A human representative in a brick-and-mortar retail store would not only be able to take a super general inquiry like “I’d like to buy a t-shirt” and point the customer towards the right section of the store, but even ask them about their style along the way and pick out specific items that the customer might want to buy right then based on their stated preferences. That’s what AI personalization does in the digital realm — it transforms internal site search from a basic tool into a powerful, customizable asset.

It connects customers with relevant information and picks out valuable insights into consumer preferences from each click, search, and item added to a cart. Algolia’s personalization features, such as custom ranking, AI personalization, and dynamic content updates, ensure you quickly find what you need, creating a more engaging and satisfying search experience that eliminates customers’ guesswork.

Improves UX for site visitors

There’s nothing worse for a user than a long list of un-prioritized results. With custom search, companies can highlight search results to help users understand why certain results are returned. They can also use facets and filters to build an intuitive interface for complicated searches, as well as pull content from different areas of the site to simplify the number of searches a user needs to complete.

An example of a search query where several attributes are required to explain the result: the movie title & the actor name.

But beyond the transactional experience, site search can do so much more than lead customers to quickly convert. When a visitor queries a truly optimized, custom internal site search, they should be delighted to discover content or products that they didn’t even know they needed. Related products and content, seasonal items, or items the business wants to promote can be configured to show up in the search results for certain queries, driving users to further engage with the products or content on your site.

In this online world, customers want their needs met ASAP to avoid feeling like just a cog in the business machine. They want to be provided with inspiring experiences! That’s what custom internal site search is for. When you unlock the potential of custom site search, your customers benefit from more relevant and personalized results, delivered instantly. This increases user satisfaction, brand loyalty, and return business.

How does internal site search benefit the business?

It’s not just users who benefit from custom site search. Providing robust search functionality is crucial to remain competitive in a world where potential customers have high expectations for their search experience, so the more you cater to their expectations, the more successful your business will be.

That’s why custom internal search helps to solve key challenges that companies face too:

Uncovering customer intent

Businesses need more visibility into what customers are looking for. The current lack of data about customers’ interests causes businesses to have trouble connecting with their audience. A custom internal site search function can give a company a direct line to this information. In fact, when a need arises, consumers often turn to search, expecting an instant, frictionless experience. These moments of impulsive, whim-based shopping give the best opportunity to connect with customers and understand user intent, as each search generates actionable, analyzable data and increased chance of a sale. Through search, the business gains access to the direct expression of what its users are looking for at an exact moment and can uncover strategic insights.

Improves content discoverability

Another challenge is content discoverability. As a website grows, finding specific pieces of content becomes more challenging. Certain pages, products, or information may be easier to find through site search than the website navigation itself.

Custom site search helps you make all of your content discoverable. No matter how many pages or documents you have on your site, as long as it is well-organized and indexed, your site search can parse them all. Custom internal site search tools equipped with federated search interfaces are particularly effective as they can search within several separate indexes at the same time. For example, with one query, the federated search interface could display blog posts, FAQs, and products in a streamlined and intuitive interface, where relevance can be tweaked to business and user specifications. A great federated search engine can also incorporate synonyms and account for misspellings and other critical variables in the search process.

In this way, an internal search engine maximizes the chances of a search delivering relevant results for the customer, without requiring special effort. By extension, it increases conversion rates. Custom search also allows you to display featured products or related information to users who may not discover it elsewhere.

Coursera, an online learning platform with thousands of courses and millions of users, needed a site search function that could keep up with the company’s growth—without major effort from their developers. They needed intuitive site search that their developers could customize and test over time.

Using Algolia, Coursera implemented federated internal search with an all-new UX, highlighting, tags, and more. As a result, Coursera has seen impressive improvements:

  • 10x faster search
  • 10% increase in pageviews for degree description pages
  • 30% of enrollments come from site search

Bringmeister, an online grocer based in Germany, was struggling to meet the needs of both users and developers with site search. Users were frustrated because they had to type exact product names to get what they were looking for, and developers were frustrated by performance issues and lack of agility with their open-source search platform. Bringmeister implemented a new search function built on Algolia, with amazing results. They’ve seen a 63% decrease in users who exit from the search page, and search-related customer complaints have dropped to zero. In addition, Bringmeister has increased efficiency and agility in several ways:

  • Teams can adjust search rankings without developer resources.
  • Business leaders can use query rules to promote certain products alongside other campaigns and partnerships.
  • Bringmeister can surface new, lesser-known products for customers through search.

Tips to implement Algolia for internal site search


  1. Index Your Content: Ensure comprehensive and accurate search results by indexing all relevant content, including products, articles, and metadata.
  2. Connect to Events: Enhance AI and customer outcomes by integrating event tracking.
  3. Design the Front-End: Create a simple, clean, and user-friendly interface.


  1. Customize Rankings: Prioritize search results based on business goals such as popularity or profit margin.
  2. Refine Searches: Implement advanced filtering options and facets to help users quickly find what they need.
  3. Personalize Results: Tailor search outcomes to individual user behaviors and preferences.


  1. Enable Real-Time Search: Provide instant, as-you-type results with real-time search capabilities.
  2. Analyze Performance: Monitor search performance and gain insights to continuously optimize the experience.
  3. Conduct A/B Testing: Test different configurations to identify the most effective setup for your users.

To recap

Custom site search offers businesses significant speed, user experience, developer control, and efficiency advantages. Considering that so many website visitors actively seek out a search bar when they land, offering robust search functionality on your website while following site search best practices is crucial for user engagement.

But remember, effective site search does more than help users find information — it substantially impacts conversions. Successful searches triple the likelihood of a conversion, making custom search a powerful tool for user satisfaction and business performance.

With all that being said, are you ready to kickstart your search journey? Algolia makes it easy to create and implement great search on your website or app. With rich web analytics capabilities and a variety of other advanced features included right out of the box, you can turn your site search into a competitive advantage.

Learn more about buying vs. building your internal search, or schedule a demo from your team to see Algolia in action.

About the authorPauline Lafontaine

Pauline Lafontaine

Sr. Product Marketing Manager

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