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Searching for a Google Search Appliance replacement for federated search?

Google Search ApplianceGoogle Search Appliance (GSA) has provided federated search for enterprises and public organizations to find content scattered across the web as well as on premises. While GSA has served it’s users for a long time, Google has announced that it will discontinue the maintenance and the support for GSA in 2019 when the last of the customer support licenses for GSA expire. This leaves GSA customers without a federated search solution and an urgent need to find a replacement.

The change may seem daunting as GSA has been a great investment entailing the physical installation on premises and as configuring the network settings to connect GSA to the web as well as the existing infrastructure. Needless to say that setting up GSA has required technical expertise.
Setting up a new federated search solution may not be technically as involved project as is the case with GSA.  Many of the replacement options come as a service where most of the technical details provided with a support are taken care of by the service provider.

Federated search can be acquired as a cloud-based service with versatile features for setting up the search for the most relevant results for your organization as well as for your visitors.

In this article, we will take a look at the features GSA offers and provide a comparison of what AddSearch, as a replacement option, has to offer. To make sure we’re on the same page let’s first go through what federated search is, how federated search is set up using GSA and what features it has for enhancing the relevance of the searches. Then we will compare the setup and the features with AddSearch.

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Set up your search for better search results

By default, AddSearch provides you with excellent algorithms to return the most relevant search results for your visitor. However, there are special situations where the user needs to make certain results return first amongst the search results. In this article, we will look at how you can set up your search so that the most relevant content will appear on top of the search results. In other words, we will show you how to make your search results better.

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Promote the results you want with Pinned results

Pinning the right search results for a specific search can be crucial to your business. While site search solutions have excellent algorithms and can be configured for better search results, there are still occasions when the results need to be handpicked to be promoted.

One occasion for handpicking search results could be a sale for particular products, say iPhones or books from a prolific author. The search algorithm most probably returns the most recent or relevant phones or books in the search results. However, it may not be aware of the items that are for sale and should be promoted.

To respond to these occasions, AddSearch has released a new feature that allows you to pick the best results for a specific search term and promote them in the desired order.

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Search Multiple Platforms With AddSearch

These days companies have accumulated content that is fragmented over multiple platforms. Companies might have a blog at WordPress or Medium, instructions, tutorials and FAQs in Zendesk or Intercom. Also, products and services may be located on e-commerce platforms such as Shopify.

Searching content from all of the various platforms separately may require extra effort, and the search results will most likely be in different formats. AddSearch provides a service where the content, fragmented over a variety of platforms, can be aggregated in a single index and rendered uniform for the users with a single search solution.

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Can AddSearch Match Google Search Appliance Features?

Google Search Appliance will be discontinued in 2019.  We decided to see if we could match some of the most important GSA features. We did some Googling and determined what the most searched features were. We came up with the following features or feature sets for GSA which we compared against a similar or alternative feature provided by AddSearch:

  • Setting up the search solution
  • Features for delivering better search results
  • User experience
  • Support
Yellow Google Search Appliance On A Transparent Stand

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What Is AJAX Crawling?

An increasing number of websites make heavy use of Javascript frameworks such as React, AngularJS, Vue.js, Polymer, and Ember. Crawling Javascript-heavy websites poses challenges as the content for these sites is dynamically generated, and crawlers have the ability to collect content only from static websites.

Picture of Javascript code in an editor
Javascript (source: www.maxpixel.net)

Websites that utilize data transfer from the server and rendering the content asynchronously with Javascript are referred to as AJAX websites and the act of crawling these sites as dynamic or AJAX crawling. AddSearch supports AJAX crawling but if you’re looking for ways to make your Javascript-heavy website crawler friendly for other search engines head on over to the next sections of this article and find out more.

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The Search Expert’s Guide to Google Search Appliance Alternatives

Google announced that it would discontinue the Google Search Appliance (GSA) in 2019. However, what is GSA? It is a piece of hardware coupled with Google’s algorithms used for indexing and searching the content from multiple sources, those of private and public servers. The device itself is a server in a yellow casing, manufactured by DELL.

Google Search Appliance

Google Search Appliance (source: Wikimedia).

GSA can index an impressive number of different content types. The search results can be filtered, and the search requests made by the users can be analyzed. The user interface for GSA is the browser, and it can be accessed on a dedicated domain.

The reason why many companies chose GSA was that they wanted their enterprise search to work just like Google. GSA was easy to set up and required only little technical expertise to maintain.  

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The Shockingly High Cost of Poor Site Search

Most organizations can improve their websites by implementing a simple 5-minute “hack”.

This hack works regardless of whether your website is focused on bringing leads and sales, providing customer service, or even if it’s your municipality’s website.

The hack is called site search.

Without proper site search, your website could be leaking sales or in other ways end up costing more than you realize.

Put simply a visitor who cannot find the information they’re looking for on your website is unlikely to convert – and similarly, customers who struggle to find solutions can also generate costly support tickets and calls.

Many businesses and website owners neglect site search, and even fewer give it the resources it truly deserves. This can end up costing them dearly.

Bad search likely costs you sales and leads – without you even knowing it

AG Consulting has discovered that visitors are most likely to use search when they’re looking for specific information, or when they can’t find what they’re looking for through regular navigation 1.

According to Forrester Research, half of all B2B buyers now create vendors shortlists based on information available on vendors’ websites – without ever communicating with anyone in the organizations 2.

If you don’t make the information easily available, these prospectors may never find the information they’re looking for, resulting in your company not making the cut. A lack of great site search tools could cost you sales and leads without you even getting the chance to make a pitch.

Search users are among your most valuable users

For ecommerce and transactional websites, search users are among the most valuable users to visit your site. Site search users are usually in the later stages of their own buying cycle. They’ve gathered the information they need, and they’re now comparing providers in order to make a purchase. In other words, they know exactly what they want, and they’re on a mission to find it 3.

eConsultancy reports of a study examining site search usage on more than twenty niche ecommerce websites 4. They found:

  • When search is used, it increases conversions. Average conversion rates across all websites measured in at 2.77% – but site search users converted at 4.63%. Site search is 1.8x more effective at producing conversions.
  • Site search users are also likely to buy more. 5.75% of all overall visitors used site search – but those visitors accounted for 13.8% of total revenue.
  • Additional research by BloomReach has shown that 15% of total visitors use site search, but these visitors account for 45% of all revenue 5.

Studies have also shown that it’s not enough to simply offer site search – you must offer customers a high-quality search experience, or risk losing them. Forrester reports that as many as 68% of shoppers would not return to a site that provided a poor search experience 6.

Potential customers can now use site search to evaluate your entire product offering, based on the information you offer online. Make sure they can find what they are looking for.

Good site search improves customer self-service and reduces costly support tickets and calls

A study by Parature showed that 84% of customers want to solve their own problems using search engines 7. They’re keen to use self-service to find their own answers, before reverting to raising support tickets or calling customer service departments. These can be costly and time-consuming – not only for your business, but for your customers, too.

Good site search improves your visitors’ ability to find the answers to their questions, boosting your customer support capabilities enormously. 41% of users have said the most important aspect of good customer service is getting issues resolved quickly 7. Site search gives your customers the tools to do just that.

Site search is also vital for public organizations

Site search is incredibly useful for business websites, but public organisations are also discovering the advantages of these tools. Public organizations and municipalities face an array of challenges when building their websites, including:

  • Providing up-to-date, accurate information for users
  • Making enormous amounts of informations accessible and easy to find
  • Cultivating a sense of trust with users

Giving users the tools they need to sift through these colossal databases and find the information they need is essential.

A 2012 study by Auburn professors found that, as with online businesses, if users can’t find what they’re looking for, they’re more likely to revert to ‘traditional’ means of communicating with a public organization 8, which can be extremely costly. Fielding telephone calls and dealing with citizens face to face strains limited budgets unnecessarily – considering that the same information and services could have been delivered online.

Good website usability has been proven to increase users’ trust in a governmental or municipal website. Site search is a vital part of that good web usability that creates a sense of trust and reliability 8.

Common site search mistakes

Despite so much evidence that shows how vital a good site search is, millions of websites still provide the most rudimentary search options for their customers. Some of the most common site search mistakes include:

  • Being unable to adapt to synonyms or alternative phrases for the same products. As many as 70% of site search tools require searches in the website’s own jargon.
  • Not having the ability to translate abbreviations or symbols. 6 in 10 site search options are unable to tell the difference between the word ‘inch’ and the inch symbol – “.
  • Autocomplete problems. Autocomplete or auto-suggestion tools can be great if used appropriately, but 36% of websites which use autocomplete have serious usability and relevance issues.

Keys to good site search experience

We’ve established that a great site search experience can increase revenue and reduce costly support tickets. So how can you make your users’ site search experience the best it can possibly be? 9

  • Make relevant results your priority. You should be aiming to ensure that users find the right results for their search on the very first attempt.
  • Understand the terms your users are searching for, and make provision for those.
  • Help your users to better formulate their search queries by providing templates or collections of pre-selected popular keywords.
  • Be sure to accommodate typos, spaces, punctuation, symbols, synonyms, alternative phrases and common spelling errors.
  • Don’t rely on your advanced search features to give users what they want – visitors shouldn’t have to dig that deep into your website to find what they need.

Sources:

  • http://www.agconsult.com/en/usability-blog/navigation-versus-search
  • https://go.forrester.com/blogs/16-02-10-how_self_service_research_will_change_b2b_marketing/
  • https://econsultancy.com/blog/65333-site-search-retailers-still-have-a-lot-to-learn
  • https://econsultancy.com/blog/62401-is-site-search-less-important-for-niche-retailers
  • https://www.bloomreach.com/en/resources/blogs/2015/11/site-search-is-sexier-than-you-think.html
  • https://www.forrester.com/report/Googleize+Your+SiteSearch+Experience/-/E-RES124541
  • http://paratureprod.blob.core.windows.net/wp-uploads/2015/01/StateofCustomerServiceReport_2014.pdf
  • http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0740624X12000706?via%3Dihub
  • http://www.humanfactors.com/newsletters/linking_and_searching.asp

Product updates – Now in real-time

Great news! We’ve launched a dedicated page where we list all the new AddSearch features. Most of the feature requests we’ve received lately have been related to the setup how to use AddSearch as a GSS alternative, so we’ve launched features such as a well-functioning paging to the Separate results page and a possibility to sort Search API results by date or relevance.

Head to the Product updates page and never miss our updates.

Introducing separate results page

As more and more customers are migrating from the discontinued Google Custom Site Search, we launched a highly requested feature: Separate results page.

An example website with traditional results page can be found from this link.

Separate results page is swift to set up. All you need to do is to add a simple search form to your website template and create a results page with only two required HTML elements. Full instructions can be found from our instructions page, but you can trust me on this one: As everything with Addsearch, also separate results page is quick and easy to set up!

As the traditional results page got launched, we have now three different ways to show search results. Pick the one you love most!