What is Search as a Service?

“Search as a service” is a type of site search that uses a software as a service (SaaS) model. 

Typically with SaaS, many different services are provided through the cloud for on-demand, pay-as-you-go pricing. With search as a service, companies innovate faster because they don’t have to worry about hosting, operations, and maintenance. Instead, they can focus on perfecting the end user experience and optimizing relevance. Search as a service exceeds the effectiveness of typical site search by providing a range of benefits, including search analytics capabilities, an intuitive search UI, and innovations that are regularly and instantly available to users because the service is hosted on the cloud. 

The search as a service model is vital in helping businesses continually improve their site search functionality and meet customer needs without a significant IT investment. 


Benefits of Search as a Service

In a time when 43% of website visitors go immediately to the search box, a great on-site search experience translates to better engagement and more conversions. 

Not only does site search quickly connect users to their needs, it also helps the business grow by boosting conversion rates and improving customer retention. But the best search as a service solutions deliver much more than just a search bar. They enable discovery, connecting visitors to things they didn’t even know they needed yet.

Search is so integrated into the online experience that it can be difficult for a site to compete without it.  However, a proprietary search solution can be costly to build, difficult to maintain, and requires significant IT investment to test and implement improvements. With the efficiency of cloud architecture, it’s often easier to outsource development, deployment, and innovation to search experts, while the business focuses on complementary marketing and product development efforts. 

The search as a service model offers a variety of benefits to businesses: 



Search as a service solutions create a more streamlined operational environment. The search provider is responsible for the nitty gritty of keeping things running, so once it is implemented, internal teams don’t have to pour hours into troubleshooting, testing, resolving logistical issues, or creating new features. In fact, search as a service empowers the business with self-service capabilities, so it can devote more time to achieving organizational objectives and less time to fine-tuning search. 

Cost of Ownership/Operations

With search as a service, companies take on less of the infrastructure and operational cost. They don’t have to employ dedicated operations teams for the search tool, which simplifies the tech stack and accelerates the pace at which work is done. These factors create a fundamentally better experience for developers.

Performance and Speed

Rapid speed is essential to a great search experience. Search as a service relies on reliable infrastructure, such as a distributed search network, to deliver lightning-fast results at scale, even as the business grows and customer needs change. Search as a service allows websites to handle more complex search needs with minimal development investment, like alternate-language searches, typo tolerance, personalization, and more. 

Reliability and Scalability

As the business grows, the search functionality must grow and evolve along with it. In-house search solutions require developers to manage system backups and resolve issues of network latency, downed servers, and/or unresponsive search. Search as a service, on the other hand, allows the business to outsource infrastructure to support reliability and scalability to third-party experts. 

Multi-Channel Uses

Search as a service also allows organizations to power multiple channels with a single search solution, rather than building new solutions for every channel. Thus, users can get quick, relevant information regardless of which search channel they interact with, including desktop web, mobile web, mobile application, and voice.


Most companies have multiple divisions, properties and silos of data on their own website. A good search as a service tool can easily span all of that to give the user a unified view of all your content, products and services in an intuitive, easy to understand interface. 


One of the key benefits of competitive search as a service solutions is their ability to collect user behavior and enable site owners to act on this data. Site search analytics provides visibility into the performance of various pages and content, uncovering which resources are the most influential and why. Analytics also gives insight into conversions, keywords, queries, the effectiveness of CTRs, and more. This information, provided in an intuitive dashboard from a search as a service provider, helps inform larger decisions about product and marketing strategies. Often, companies can discover pockets of unmet needs that represent significant business opportunities.

Customization & Flexibility

With a strong search as a service provider, companies can let business goals and business specific needs drive the configuration of search and the search UI design. Customization ensures the search is best matched to the business case and challenges. Companies can tweak ranking factors, prioritization, and other elements to continually improve the search tool to meet customers’ needs. 


Personalization is the future of search. Search as a service providers have data, analytics, and infrastructure to support personalization at scale in a way that in-house solutions and generic search plugins often can’t. 

The more users feel that search results cater to their needs, the more opportunities there are to cross-sell and up-sell with related content and products. Organizations can simultaneously optimize for multiple languages, as opposed to building in one and incrementally building in others one at a time. They can also optimize for variations, plural and singular cases, and other relevant factors to deliver relevant results, every time. 

Visual Design

When you build your own search function, you also have to invest in the UX and visual design of the tool. With search as a service, the search provider offers visual design and templates that work seamlessly with your site. Within the tool, you can tweak these visuals and test different graphic elements to land on the most-engaging visual layout. You can choose from different design elements that interplay with your search, like pagination, filters, and facets, to ensure customers have an intuitive and frictionless experience.


Efficiency is the result of effective functionality. Search as a service providers invest heavily in back-end functionality—everything from timely indexing to fast responses to querying to federated search—so you can focus on tweaking and optimizing your own search results. While default CMS or e-commerce platform search results are general, often unprioritized, lists, optimized search as a service solutions provide highly relevant, tailored results for each site visitor.


How Search as a Service Works

Once a company has chosen their preferred site search solution, it’s time to get the service up and running on the site. To implement a search as a service solution, clients first need to give cloud providers access to properly formatted data. 

The vendor processes this data with its search engine so customers can access search results via software available through APIs. The processing involves creating indexes, or markers indicating what the content contains, which are accessible to the search engine. When users query, or input words into the search bar initiating a search, the engine sifts through the indexes to quickly give results to the user. Those search results are categorized according to relevance to the query.

The search vendor maintains the hardware, compute, memory, and processing power required. With other solutions, customers are responsible for purchasing and maintaining infrastructure such as servers, operating systems, and patches. The API approach to search as a service does not require any of these investments. 


Who Needs Search as a Service?

Any site with content or products that can be searched can benefit from search as a service. 

Search as a service is especially helpful in many different industries. In media or journalism, large amounts of new content are produced on a daily or weekly basis, so it can be hard for visitors to connect to the most relevant information. In retail and e-commerce, ever-changing and/or expanding product catalogs can be hard for users to navigate. In many cases, organizations rely on multiple search engines for different content types, which increases expenses, strains internal developer teams, and results in poor user experiences.

Search as a service helps mitigate these issues. With one tool, companies can help users find wide-ranging content from archived articles to new videos to fresh investigative reports. The results are continually refreshed due to frequent site indexing, and media sites can run analytics to see what content is the most important and what content gaps need filling.


Algolia and Search as a Service

Search as a service is a cloud offering that makes search easier for users, developers, and businesses alike. 

Algolia is cutting-edge search as a service, designed to work at scale. Our investment in high-availability architecture, continuous innovation, and personalized experiences helps you deliver great search experiences for every user, every time. 

Learn more about buying vs. building your search tool, or watch a demo to see Algolia in action!

About the authorAshley Stirrup

Ashley Stirrup

Chief Marketing Officer @ Algolia

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