11 / 01 / 19
16th January 2019
The importance of using the right search technologies in your website
Search tools are an integral part of any website, whether used to find and filter products on your eCommerce site or to deliver specific content to your visitors based on their needs; utilising the right technology to meet these needs is a must. This article breaks down the key features and benefits offered by modern search tools by taking a look at Algolia, which we recently implemented for one of our clients.
Most websites these days incorporate a search tool of some variety, but more often than not these incorporate ‘traditional’ search functionality. You know the ones I mean: you type a few words in a search bar and then you are given a results list containing the web pages that contain any of the words you’ve entered.
In some instances, sure, traditional search is sufficient, but if your business offers a large variety of different services and specific user journeys, then what is presented in your search results can often be overwhelming in terms of content and baffling in terms of relevance.
As an example of how not to search engine; try this out.
If you’ve just gone through the 5000+ pages of possible search results, welcome back! If not, we can agree that this is not a fun experience for you or users of your website.
The good news is that there are a lot of modern search tools out there that can do much more for your users and also do it more efficiently; one such tool we love to use here at Abstrakt is Algolia.
Modern Search Tools (What’s an Algolia?)
Algolia is not a former portuguese colony in Africa, that’s Angola; instead it is a hosted Search Engine provider. Algolia uses its own API which is able to provide real-time results to search queries thanks to the way it stores and indexes the data. It contains a powerful and ever evolving AI to interpret the search queries and determine the most relevant results quickly. Very quickly.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the key features of Algolia and how they help make a huge impact to the experience of your users and conversion of customers.
Speed & Relevance
As previously mentioned, the Algolia API is really quick, so that’s a huge bonus for users waiting for the results to their queries. Furthermore Algolia also works very well at returning the most relevant results based on the following:
- Word / Phrase relevance - checking for full phrase, full word and partial word matches.
- Synonyms - replacing certain words with something similar if that particular word is not present within the content.
- Typo tolerance - performing a spell check at run time to returning results from what the word should be.
- Popularity - reordering the results of a given search such that those same results that have been popular appear first.
Filtering is important for any search tool to give the user more control over the results they are given and get to where they need to be on your website as simply and efficiently as possible. Algolia’s filtering system allows for multiple data types and grouping of data instead of simply providing a basic form categorisation. It also incorporates an extended feature called Facet Filtering, which allows for more complex filtering such as date / price ranges etc.
Multiple Index Searching
Allowing for different content types to be searched from a single search tool keeps the user focused within the same area of the site until they’ve found what they need. In principle a user should be able to use the same search bar regardless of whether they’re looking for news articles, contacts or videos.
Algolia allows for different indexes for each of your different types of content, this means that from a data perspective, each index can be streamlined to only contain the data that each one needs, thus allowing the data to be stored and queried more efficiently. What makes Algolia great is that it allows multiple queries to be run simultaneously, each treated as its own separate query, but all part of the same interaction with the Algolia API. This allows for different content types to be searched and presented to the user all in one go.
Another great part of using Algolia is that all the features mentioned above are completely customisable; this allows for further tweaking to what search results are returned by tailing it your users’ needs. For example, custom synonyms could be implemented to handle industry specific and phrases, the level of typo tolerance can be modified to either broaden or reduce the amount of results returned and filters can be defined within the Algolia dashboard to make for more efficient indexing and a quicker response time for searches.
Seeing as Algolia hosts the searchable content itself, it is important to keep this inline with the website content itself. From a development perspective, the Algolia API is a quick one to learn and very easily handles any content changes that are made on the website end. What’s even better is that there are also third-party plugins that already handle this without much setup time, there’s one for Craft CMS and we love Craft too.
Many organisations nowadays offer different products and services based on where their customer is located; therefore in cases like these, it is important that a search tool offers a user what is relevant to where they are just as much as what they are actually looking for. Algolia has a very simple way of geotagging results as well as an even simpler way to integrate a geolocation lookup through its API.
So What’s next?
These are the main features of Algolia that we have implemented; but we have only scratched the surface on what is possible. Here’s some of the features we look forward to implementing in future:
The way people search for things online has evolved just as much as the search technologies themselves have. One key area that has seen a huge increase over the past few years is voice or conversational searching, especially on mobile devices; in-fact it is predicted that by 2020 50% of all searching will be voice-based. Algolia has implemented VoiceOverlay which integrates with mobile apps to interpret voice input as the search query; this currently integrates with Alexa, Google Assistant, Android and iOS voice controls.
In much the same way that Google and other analytics tools are used to decipher a user’s preferences, Algolia is also able to receive events or actions that a user has performed; each action can then be configured to provide more relevant or specific results based on that preference.
If it hasn’t been mentioned before, Algolia is incredibly fast; it therefore has the ability to interpret a search query as it is being typed and provide autocomplete suggestions. This is important to the overall user experience and is most beneficial when searching for something very specific or helping to find items without knowing the naming convention.
This also reduces the likelihood of the user receiving no results from their search or having to keep try different specific terms to find what they’re looking for.
To find out more about Algolia and how it could help your business or to start a search project get in touch with our team today.
Interesting? There’s plenty more where that came from…