An Introduction to Custom Search Engines

An Introduction to Custom Search Engines

Custom web search engines are an invaluable web tool for companies looking to optimize site experience and improve conversion rates. Search engine solutions offer a wide range of benefits that can help boost your business such as improved user experience (UX), higher revenue, better product discovery, and more. 

As web users increasingly turn to the search box to discover products and services, custom site search is one way you can make sure your customers have the best possible online shopping experience.

If you're new to site search, this post is for you. We'll introduce you to site search, show examples of search in action, and discuss some of the benefits of a new search engine for your website. 

What is a custom search engine?

A custom web search engine, or site search solution for short, is software that allows your web users to generate instant searches on your website. It's the same technology used by companies like Amazon and eBay to help their customers find what they're looking for in record time. The search box, results page, and results themselves can all be customized to meet your brand and customers’ needs. 

The benefits of having a custom search engine

Why use a special search function on your site? Here are just a few of the benefits. 

Improved user experience (UX) 

A custom web search engine can help you boost UX in several ways, including making it easy for web visitors to find products they're looking for and improving the overall speed of website navigation. Users love fast-loading sites that allow them quickly access what they're looking for, and a web-based custom search solution can help you achieve just that. An integrated site search engine also makes it easier to find information on your website in the event that web users need assistance from customer service or support. 

Great results for any site via a custom search engine
Search results and product recommendations can be personalized.

Improved product and page discovery 

A web-based custom site search engine also enables web users to find new content on your website that they may not have been aware of or known about before. This can be incredibly beneficial for businesses with a large selection of products, as web searchers will now be able to easily discover items they never knew existed.

Improved conversion lift

For e-commerce companies in particular, a web-based custom site search engine can also help you boost conversion rates. Custom search engines give you the ability to improve conversions for several reasons, including:

  • They can continually boost higher-converting results to optimize for conversions
  • They provide site owners and merchandisers with the ability to curate important results
  • High quality results increase time-on-site and reduce site bounces and abandonment
  • Better customer experience leads to higher customer satisfaction and customer loyalty

Why companies are replacing Google Custom Search Engine

While Google is terrific for internet search, its site search products have much to improve on. Google has changed the way they run their Custom Search Engine (CSE). From April 2018 onwards, CSE began displaying Adsense ads on search results, which means ads of your competitors could be shown to your users on your site! CSE customers are required to use Google branding, too.

One of the primary benefits of a custom search engine is its flexibility to be tailored to different sites. Ironically, it's hard to actually customize Google's custom site search products. While Google's algorithm is quite powerful, CSE lacks the kind of user-friendly features and control panel that today's buyers have come to expect from a more flexible SaaS-based solution. 

For all those reasons, customers have begun to replace Google site search with Sajari and other search providers. 

Features of a custom search engine

Site search is available in several ways:

  • As a hosted, SaaS-based solution
  • Through cloud providers (such as Amazon Web Services)
  • As open source software for on-premise deployments 

Check out our Site Search Buyer's Guide to learn more about the different options. 

Regardless of how you deploy search, here are some of the features they have in common...

Indexing via crawler or API

The easiest way to create a search index is through a site crawler. Crawlers will start with your sitemap and can be configured to include or exclude different parts of your site. For large CMSes or dynamically generated sites, REST APIs are preferred. 

Customize the search results page

The search bar and search results designs can be customized extensively to match your site's look and feel. Some providers only offer developer libraries for CSS customization, but Sajari takes it a step further with a search builder UI with simple drag-and-drop functionality and instant filter creation. Last month we also announced new search result templates

Mobile search UI
Don’t forget mobile users. A mobile search experience can help customers who are on-the-go. 

Machine learning

AI can be used to power custom search by providing more relevant results, optimizing ranking based on conversions or clicks, and even for spell checking. 

Search filters and faceted search

You may want to allow web users to filter results based on different criteria, such as price or color. Custom search engines provide the ability for web site owners and merchandisers to create filters (or dynamic filters called facets) to help users pinpoint the results they want. 

Faceted search
Here’s an example of a long list of filters (along left-hand side) to narrow results.

Autocomplete

Autocomplete, or autosuggest, helps improve the search experience by making information easier to find. As users type a search term, autocomplete provides assistance by displaying a range of possible results in the search box. 

government site search with autocomplete
Autocomplete, synonyms, spelling correction, and other features can make searching easier for customers. 

Personalization

Search personalization is important for e-commerce companies to offer better recommendations and improve results based on each customer's purchase history or preferences.  

Analytics

Search metrics offer insights into search trends and poorly performing keywords and search queries. Google Analytics also offers similar search statistics, too.

Plugins and integrations

Many search engine providers offer additional plugins and native integrations to enable search anywhere — from a Wordpress blog, a web CMS, or headless e-commerce platform. You can also search across multiple sites you manage, something known as federating search.

How to set up site search in minutes

search snippet for a custom search engine
With a bit of HTML and a dash of CSS, search can be added to a site in minutes. 

Search-as-a-service is the easiest way for companies to implement a new search solution quickly and cost-effectively. With Sajari, users simply need to create an account, enter the URL for indexing, and then add a snippet of code to their site. Larger or more complex sites may require additional tweaks, but search can be up-and-running quickly. 

Bottom line

A custom search engine can give you a great deal of control and flexibility on how the search bar works on your site for your products and services. It can up-level customer experience, improve customer loyalty, and deliver higher conversion rates. 

This article only touched on a handful of the features and benefits of site search. There’s way more that modern search engines can offer, from A/B testing to dynamically-driven catalog pages. If you're ready to dive in, we offer a 14-day free trial or you can speak with one of our search specialists to discuss your use-case and get a demo.

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