What is site search?
Nowadays, almost every website has a search bar. The website visitor types in a search term, clicks search, and the search results of that website appear automagically. That’s site search in a nutshell, which may seem straightforward at first glance, but behind the scenes complex technology is required to make it work well. Read more about site search.
Standard search solutions
The vast majority of websites are managed with a Content Management System (a CMS). This allows webmasters to adjust information on the website, add and delete pages, and manage graphic elements such as photos, etc. There are countless providers of CMS providers, such as WordPress, Drupal, Notion, Typo3, or Webflow. Most of these offer a built-in search bar, or allow webmasters to add a search bar by adding a third-party plugin.
These standard search solutions can be an excellent option for simple websites with a limited amount of pages. But as websites grow in size and the webmaster adds more and more pages, these standard search bars quickly hit their limits. As an example, your marketing team may decide that a specific web page should appear at the top of the search results when a visitor searches for a specific search term. Or it turns out that your website contains many old blog posts which at a certain point in time should automatically stop appearing in the search results. In these cases (and there are many more examples) a standard search solution quickly falls short.
Custom search solutions
Larger organizations usually have dedicated IT teams responsible for development and maintenance of the company its websites and applications. In this case, IT usually maintains the search technology as well.
And although IT teams know their tech, site search technology requires very specific knowledge and experience. As a result, the maintenance and management of the site search takes up a disproportionate amount of time and energy, which in turn results in too much pressure on the responsible IT staff and a low-quality site search solution that is not up for the task.
So in our experience, even with a custom search solution, it is very hard to guarantee a high-quality site search.
Search as a service
The third option is to subscribe to a search as a service supplier: site search for a fixed monthly fee. This completely unburdens the customer (and the IT department), while the costs remain manageable and predictable.
After intake and implementation, it is the job of the search as a service provider to make sure that the site search on your website works well. One less thing to worry about.
Why should you outsource site search?
So, at what point does it start to make sense to outsource site search to a search as a service supplier? To answer that question, it is useful to look at the disadvantages of using a standard search solution or a custom solution.
Problems with standard search solutions
Especially with larger websites, standard search solutions quickly fall short. Large organizations require a high-performance website, with lightning speed site search. A website of a bank or insurer, for example, easily contains tens of thousands of pages, and a lot of time and energy went into creating all that content. Clearly this content must be easy to find for the sometimes millions of visitors.
Standard search solutions are just not made for that many searches, with huge amounts of data to search through. This leads to slow search bars and incorrect or incomplete search results, which can cause frustration with your visitors. A search function should be helpful rather than a source of annoyance.
In addition, the management options with standard search solutions leave a lot to be desired. With these amounts of search data, it should be possible for the webmasters to manage the search content properly. Some pages should be boosted to the top of the search results, other pages should not even appear in the first place. And it should be possible to manage different crawlers on different (sub) domains, and filters and search clusters should be managed. Most standard search solutions do not support advanced features like these.
Maintenance: business risk
Like all software, search technology needs maintenance, both in order to remain functionally operational and in terms of security. With a standard search solution, technical maintenance depends entirely on the supplier of the underlying CMS or the supplier of the third-party plugin. In our experience, unfortunately, maintenance often falls short, which can result in the search bar becoming a business risk.
As mentioned before, most standard solutions lack advanced features required for larger, more complex websites. There are countless features to mention, but important examples are:
- Real-time search results: visitors immediately see search results while typing the first letters of a search query
- Automatic spelling correction: when visitors make typing errors, the correct search result appears anyway (or the query is being corrected)
- Filters: when search data is divided into categories, visitors can filter search results accordingly
- Boosting search results: it is often required to adjust the order of the search results and boost certain pages
- Search suggestions: visitors get search suggestions while typing the search query
- Multi-language: content in multiple languages is still searchable through one search bar, and it doesn’t matter in which language visitors search
- Search in different sub-domains: information on different sub-domains is available through one search bar
- Crawlers: different crawlers that run on sub-domains to guarantee up-to-date search
- Reports and statistics provide insight into search behavior on the website, so that popular content can be improved while missing content can be supplemented
- Contextual search: search results depend on the provided context of the visitor, which can be a topic on interest or a role.
Problems with custom search solutions
Large organizations with their own IT department could opt to keep a custom search up and running. However, in our experience, this often leads to a disproportionate strain on the IT department.
Search technology is very complex. Implementing, hosting, maintaining and developing a search function properly, requires very specific knowledge and a lot of time. If not done right, the search function will become very slow or deliver incomplete search results which at the expense of the quality of the website. This should not be acceptable to organizations with busy websites.
Of course, not every IT department is the same and there are a lot of smart developers that may have the required knowledge. But even if that is the case, maintaining the search function will often be a secondary task next to other activities so there may not be enough time to keep the search function running properly and it may be even harder to keep the required knowledge up-to-date. Additionally, people change jobs regularly, which can lead to losing the required knowledge within the organization.
Also, running a good search function is not only a matter of technical management, but also of functional management. Someone must be responsible for - among many other things - making sure the most important pages rank correctly for the corresponding search queries, analyzing the search terms that visitors put in the search box and updating the content accordingly, etc.
In conclusion, sometimes it is possible to develop, implement, host and maintain a custom search solution in-house, if the organization has people with the required skills, but the reality is that it is very difficult to guarantee the continuity and quality of site search this way, not even counting the time and energy it costs to keep such knowledge up-to-date.
Benefits of outsourcing
As shown above, outsourcing site search offers quite a few advantages, especially for administrators of large websites with a lot of traffic.
The biggest advantage is that search as a service reduces the IT workload. Site search is complex and costs a disproportionate amount of time, which can be much better spent on the core business of the company.
A search as a service supplier specializes in site search and takes the implementation and technical management off your hands. This guarantees continuity and quality at predictable costs. One less thing to worry about!
Furthermore, a well-functioning search function has a lot of other advantages. For example, when visitors get to the right information faster, they convert faster to customers. The opposite is also true, visitors who cannot find what they are looking for right away, will inevitable drop-off.
In addition, a good functioning search function reduces the pressure on the service department because there are fewer questions if visitors can find answers themselves.
Which organizations benefit most from search as a service?
For websites with a lot of content, it can be interesting to outsource the search function to a supplier. But which type of organizations will benefit the most?
Lots of content, lots of traffic, focused on customers
Site search really shines on websites with a lot of pages and a lot of traffic. For websites that don’t match these criteria, search-as-service is often too expensive.
Clearly, mostly larger organizations, such as banks, insurers and telecom organizations run websites like this. Websites that aim their content at consumers, where products and services are presented and being sold.
But of course there are more organizations with websites with these characteristics. Think of healthcare providers, governments and administrative bodies, non-profit organizations, training and educational institutes, media corporations and large blogs and forums.
Finally, online stores form a separate category. They sell products directly to consumers and a good search function is therefore paramount. However, online stores have a different management strategy for their website and content than textual-content-driven websites.
Pandosearch specializes in search technology for content-driven websites, with a lot of (textual) content and many pages.
Conclusion: when is search as a service really valuable?
Returning to the question with which we started this article, there are a number of scenarios where it is worthwhile to outsource the search function to a search as a service provider, such as Pandosearch:
- For large websites with many pages and therefore with a lot of (textual) content
- With a lot of traffic and therefore many visitors
- This often applies to banks, insurers, large telecom providers, but also to governments, healthcare institutions, training and educational institutes and media corporations
- Where the search function is either a standard solution (e.g. built into the CMS) or a custom search solution that is being maintained in-house. Both options have fast disadvantages.
Why customers choose Pandosearch?
Pandosearch completely takes care of your site search. This reduces your IT workload drastically while we provide a worry-free search function that works well the entire time, so that your visitors can find what they are looking for.
Customers choose Pandosearch because of our many years of experience (>15) with search technology and because of our team. Our search specialists think along and advise on the very best solution for your specific case.
We believe site search should be tailor made. That’s why we always start with an extensive intake procedure, in which we talk to our customers (a lot) to learn all wishes and requirements. During that process, we think along about the possibilities and impossibilities and advise honestly and critically about how we think the site should be implemented and organized.
After the search function has been implemented, Pandosearch takes over the technical maintenance and management completely. This means that customers can rely on quality and continuity: the search function is available 24/7 and we provide support when required.
And we do more than just maintenance, because we keep developing our software. Our search specialists love nothing more than to work on the very best search technology, so we ensure that our knowledge is always up-to-date.
Pandosearch provides a management system with which the customer can carry out the functional management of the search function themselves, but if desired, we are of course happy to assist with functional management as well.
Finally, we have regular contact with our customers to check whether the search function still works well, and in case customer demands have changed, we can adjust the implementation accordingly. This way, we guarantee an optimal performance of the site search.
Should you want to know more, don't hesitate to contact us.