Search vs. navigate: How people behave on websites – do they search or do they navigate?
Navigating and searching are both important ways of finding desirable content. How important is the internal search box on your website?
Migrating from the Google Search Appliance? This handy guide will help you select and create a smooth transition to your new site search platform.
Google announced in 2016 that the Google Search Appliance (GSA) was scheduled to be sunset in 2019, and it would no longer be selling GSA hardware. This year, licenses and support for remaining Search Appliances will be discontinued as well, effectively ending the viability of this widely utilized search technology.
Migrating from the Google Search Appliance may be a scary proposition, but it’s also the perfect time to re-evaluate what feature sets are important to your organization. It also creates an opportunity to identify what new features and functionality you could be utilizing and benefiting from, which were unavailable via the Search Appliance. Overall, this could prove to be an advantageous upgrade from your existing solution, if the proper steps are taken to evaluate your organizational needs and technology requirements.
The first step to taking advantage of this opportunity, as well as creating a smooth transition to a new search platform, is to create a clear migration plan for your enterprise. Here’s how.
Step 1- Needs Assessment: Gain a clear understanding of what features and functionality your team is using (or not using) with your current Search Appliance. Then take a closer look at what new functionality is available via new solutions. Are there opportunities to increase relevance, save time, or create more efficiency? Don’t restrict this to your IT team- talk to your content owners, your marketing people and if possible, your search users to understand how you can serve all of them better.
Step 2- Evaluation: Once you have a clear idea of what you’re looking for, create a shortlist of GSA replacement solutions. Test these solutions and see how well they map to your unique needs. Evaluate how easy they will be to migrate to, how much time and expense will be involved in the migration, how much support they offer you, and what features and functionality are offered right out-of-the-box.
Step 3- Configuration: Once you’ve selected a replacement solution, it’s time to start configuring it to your needs. Especially with modern SaaS search solutions, you’ll receive a lot of functionality built right in, which should reduce the amount of time you’ll need to spend building it from scratch. You should also be able to port over some of the configurations and settings from your Google Search Appliance.
Step 4- Launch: Now comes the fun part! Validate all your settings, run quality control tests to ensure your new search solution is functioning to spec and delivering relevant results, and ensure your index is up-to-date. Then you’re ready to go live on your public facing website and/or intranet. Congratulations- you’ve successfully migrated to a new site search platform!
Step 5- Maintenance: For the next few weeks you should keep a close eye on your search solution to ensure there are any remaining bugs from the migration. Once you’re satisfied that your search application is running smoothly, you should continue to pay close attention to your search analytics- there’s a wealth of information to be gained from them! Ongoing support and maintenance is also important, though with a SaaS platform you shouldn’t have too much more to do from a maintenance perspective, as security patches and updates will be pushed through from your provider automatically.
The most critical functions of your search platform are of course the ability to offer external website visitors or intranet users an easy way to search, find and navigate content efficiently, and offering your team the ability to learn from and optimize content based on site search data.
When replacing your GSA, you should look for solutions that can not only fulfill your existing functionality, but surpass it by enhancing the user experience in a meaningful way.
Going beyond efficient content indexing and the delivery of relevant results, you should ensure that your new site search solution is aligned with your overall digital content strategy, and is equipped with a sufficient level of user assistive technology (intelligent autocomplete, synonyms, bigram matching etc.), automation (machine learning) and business intelligence (behavioral insights and analytics capabilities).
Some key site search features to look out for are:
Synonyms: Your customers search for kids, but describe them as children. With synonyms a search for “kids” will also return results for “children”, or a search for “footwear” will also return “shoes”.
Intelligent Autocomplete: Your search platform should ideally incorporate machine learning driven autocomplete suggestions that uses end-user behavior to make predictions about what a user is searching for, delivering recommended search suggestions faster, and creating a more efficient site search experience.
Quicklinks: With Quicklinks you can direct users to a page without them having to visit the search result page first. For example, you can set it up so a search for “waste” automatically takes visitors to the waste management page, creating a more efficient search experience.
Misspellings: A basic search feature, automated spelling corrections is also one of the most valuable, especially in the case of academic or technical institutions with more complicated vocabularies being searched.
Banners: A search solution that incorporates the ability to deliver banners based on the search terms used can be highly valuable to marketing and content teams. This is a new function that is not commonly found in search platforms.
Engine Controls: Search is quickly moving out from under the sole purview of the IT department, and becoming a marketing function. This means your search platform should allow users without any technical skills to still be able to tweak the relevance of the search solution. For example, they should easily be able to lower the value of all your news articles, and boost the relevance of your products if need be.
Let’s take a look at how this functionality would work in the case of a real-world GSA replacement scenario.
For example, in the case of an educational institution, the search bar and search engine results pages (SERPs) should be integrated into the overall design of the website, and should allow for configurations that allow visitors to search for:
A search within each of the above categories could then be made more dynamic and efficient via machine learning that powers intelligent autocomplete, by tying in synonyms to make searches within specialized academic vocabularies easier, and by offering visitors the ability to search across indexes.
In the case of a search for a specific article in the physics department for example, intelligent autocomplete would assist the search user with finding the most relevant article, while engine controls (if properly set up) will minimize the appearance of dated news articles on a similar topic appearing at the top of the results page.
Personalization is also important. If your users are logged into an intranet or learning management portal, you should be able to personalize the search results. For example, a student studying molecular biology should receive promoted content from the major that he/she is studying when using the search function.
A search platform function that is often overlooked, is the ability to deliver critical information to marketing and content staff. Search analytics can be used to optimize both search performance, as well as your overall content strategy.
Search analytics can be used to create strategic insights that guide your marketing and content strategy. Also, because they are predictive, Search analytics can help you prepare for upcoming events in your market that might otherwise not be noticeable. For instance, by analyzing trending search terms, your team can begin to predict corresponding trends in customer behavior. By using a combination of website analytics (such as Google Analytics) and site search analytics, content owners can begin to identify how their audiences are behaving online, what their needs are, and what gaps exist in their content catalog.
For an in depth look at what search analytics can do, check out this post on optimizing website and content using site search analytics.
Things have moved on since the Google Search Appliance was released in 2002, and you shouldn’t need a long development process to set up a customized, state-of-the-art site search solution. Unlike hardware solutions that are expensive, high-maintenance, and tend to fall out-of-date quickly, modern SaaS site search solutions are highly secure and configurable to your needs. The best part? Most of their functionality works right out-of-the-box.
When selecting a search solution, the first consideration it to ensure that it’s compatible with your CMS, and is able to be integrated with other useful tools like Google Analytics or Siteimprove. You should also evaluate how difficult, expensive or time-consuming the setup is going to be. For example, building from scratch on a platform like Solr, Lucene, Azure or Elastic can be an extremely time-consuming and expensive proposition.
Support and training on your new solution is also critical. It’s recommended that you lock down a commitment on the support you will receive from your new search provider both for the installation of your search platform, as well as ongoing support and maintenance. For instance, Google was known to be notoriously poor at offering human support for their products, and some providers are known to upcharge customers even for minor support or maintenance requests.
Cludo is a powerful cloud-based site search & content enablement solution which puts you in control of your search solution and helps your organization get more value out of its content. Cludo’s AI-driven search platform goes far beyond what GSA offered, giving you more control over your entire site search solution, access to actionable dashboards & analytics, and better customer support.
Cludo is powerful for developers, yet is very much built for marketing and communication teams. The beauty of Cludo is there are no defined skill sets needed to setup or maintain the product (unless you use our API for implementation, in which case experience working with an API is needed).
While search is a tool traditionally managed by web development teams, Cludo has created a platform that is also meant to be easily accessed and modified by marketing teams with little to no developer intervention required. For example, content and website owners can work directly from Cludo’s analytics dashboard to optimize the search solution, boost results, add synonyms etc. with no technical training needed. It contains all the powerful features you would desire in a search solution, including full-control over relevancy, rich-media banners, content boosting, controllable machine learning, actionable analytics, an intuitive dashboard, and much more, in an easy-to-use package.
Cludo’s implementation and Customer Success Management team does provide an initial web training session to start, as well as providing regular training webinars to all Cludo users. We’ll also work with your team and provide the resources to implement a search solution and visitor experience that seamlessly meshes with your website’s design and overall digital experience.
Cludo’s algorithm, while working beautifully out-of-the-box, is also entirely customizable. Out of the box, the algorithm will measure relevance by how prominently and often a query is found within a search result, but you can also apply boosting settings to a number of criteria on an engine-wide basis or more granularly via page rankings.
The extent to which each customer can manipulate the search algorithm to meet their website’s specific needs, is unique to Cludo. Out-of the-box you can boost based on anything you can think of: by path, title, category, domain, ID, description, field value comparison. You can also add custom fields if there is additional metadata you want to boost by.
To increase the relevance of your results, you can also turn on Cludo’s proprietary machine learning tool called “Page Rankings”, which allows the Cludo algorithm to self-adjust the boosting of search results automatically based on aggregate user behavior. This functionality is above and beyond the standard ability to manually boost specific results and page rankings within the SERP.
In addition, Cludo’s intelligent autocomplete is one of the most advanced and effective assistance tools available to site search users. This feature uses end-user behavior to make predictions about what a user is searching for, delivering recommended search suggestions faster, and creating a more efficient site search experience. Other site search solutions base their autocomplete suggestions purely on content and tags- the autocomplete suggestions simply pull from the indexed content on the site, guessing at what the user is typing. Cludo’s autocomplete on the other hand is based on actual user behavior. This allows it to be more dynamic and accurate in the suggestions it serves, as it’s based on what has actually worked for other users rather than simply guessing based on a static database of content.
Cludo goes beyond site search- it’s also a powerful Content Enablement Platform. Unlike other platforms that only focus on delivering content, Cludo facilitates the full cycle of delivering relevant content, analyzing how your visitors interact with content, and then giving you the insights you need for further optimization.
Cludo enables you to get more value out of your content, by giving you access to insights into what content visitors desire, whether it currently exists on your site or not, and gauge how well your content is performing. This will help you to develop more valuable content and optimize its delivery.
This saves your team time- instead of digging through mountains of data, Cludo’s actionable analytics will tell you exactly where your content gaps are, and what content is most important. Plus, if your content mix is solid, and your search is optimized, it’ll also save your staff time answering customer requests for information!
Cludo is fully scalable in terms of the number of data sources, number of records, number of engines, indexing intervals, search volume, etc. Our team partners with every client to establish what their requirements are, so that we can right-size a package for them. The platform can also easily grow with the needs of an organization, adding more pages, searches, or engines to any package if necessary.
Cludo also has a huge cluster of servers to make sure that even an attack utilizing targeted automated queries will never crash the service. We employ 24x7x365 monitoring of the performance of the search, conduct regular penetration testing, and our Customer Success Team will help ensure any noticeable spam traffic is not counted against your yearly search volume.
Single Sign On (SSO) is also available for purchase within the platform. Security can be set per engine: for public facing websites, normally a non-secure engine will suffice. However, for internal (intranet) search capabilities it requires an API key to access the content. If needed for intranet, you can filter what you want to search in via the API, thereby creating a role-based search. Audit logs are also available for all customers on request.
When migrating from the Google Search Appliance to Cludo, you don’t need to go through a long and complicated transition process. Instead, you can get started without having to install any hardware or software at all. You simply have to create a login for our system, and go through our easy setup process online. If you choose to, you can migrate the synonyms you have already set up in your GSA over to our system, and then let our crawlers do the rest! You simply provide us with the domains to be crawled, and then our crawlers will go out and index all pages and files referenced on your website.
Updating the index is done in a few ways: If you have a sitemap, we can use our “smart crawl” and look for changes to the sitemap, which is much faster than recrawling all the thousands of pages you may have, especially since much of that content doesn’t change often. And/or we can schedule our crawlers to recrawl the entire index at regular intervals. There is also a ‘content update’ button within the dashboard for quick updates to your index, plus Cludo also has a Push API available to augment the index if needed.
Cludo also has a REST API that is very usable for developers who are interested in building custom connectors. Outside of being able to request help from our Support team as-needed, we also suggest scheduling an API-specific training so that you’re comfortable using this resource.
With the GSA migration deadline looming, time is of the essence. If you don’t yet have a migration path plotted out, a great first step is to begin your research into alternate solutions. As we said before, this is the perfect opportunity to include input from your content and marketing teams as well, to ensure that your next site search platform is more fully integrated into your overall digital and website strategy.
If you’re looking for help or guidance on how to replace your Google Search Appliance, or would like to future-proof your investment by getting a better overview of where site search and content enablement technology is headed, Cludo’s Search Consultants will be happy to provide you with the necessary information and tools to help you make an informed decision. You can get in touch with us here.
You can also take advantage of our complete site search buyers guide that will help you when shopping for a new site search solution.
Navigating and searching are both important ways of finding desirable content. How important is the internal search box on your website?
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