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
Setting Up The Search
As GSA is an actual physical device it also requires some physical steps to get up and running. In addition to mounting the device, the Google-powered search solution needs to be set up. The GSA documentation includes roughly the following phases
- Planning, which includes instructions to determine whether the surrounding technology at customer’s end is compatible with GSA; in other words planning determines if GSA can be installed.
- Installing, which includes mounting the hardware, plugging in the cabling for the network as well as configuring the network settings on the server side.
- Crawling, which includes adding the “Start URL” (or seed pages) where the crawler begins to search and collecting for links to the web pages of the website. The crawler can be restricted to certain areas of the website using the “Follow Patterns” feature.
- Crawler access, with which the crawler is granted access to content that is behind a user login and a password.
- After installing and setting up the crawler the search is ready to be accessed with a browser using the search box that is similar to what you can see when searching the internet with Google.
AddSearch uses the Software as a Service model to provide the search functionality. A definition from another of our articles states that
Software as a Service (SaaS) refers to a service built around to a set of software that is distributed over the internet. Site search, in the frame of SaaS, is a service which uses cloud-based computing resources (servers, operating systems, dedicated software) for crawling content from customers’ websites as well as providing easy-to-install search functionality to customer’s website.
In practice, this means that the crawling, indexing, the search engine as well as the user interface is taken care by AddSearch. While we offer services associated with installing and tailored features to our enterprise customers, installing the search to the website needs to be done by the customer – of course with the help from our helpdesk if necessary.
In the simplest form installing the search is as easy as signing up for a free trial and adding a single line of code with your site key to the web page.
In addition to the Widget view, there are other methods which on one hand have a couple of more steps to take when installing but on the other hand, will give more leeway in customizing how the user interface of the search looks and feels. The API provides the most room for customization but implementing the search with the API requires some technical expertise.
Delivering Better Search Results
Many people recognize Google as a provider of a search engine with algorithms can match whatever it is the user is looking for from the internet. There are methods which help the search engines to return relevant search results to the user.
Both GSA and AddSearch have a self-learning algorithm, which adjusts to the users’ interaction with the search engine over time. AddSearch prioritizes the search results that are clicked frequently.
When a user mistypes or misspells the search term the search engines have a way to step in and correct the misspelling. GSA will prompt ‘Did you mean: ‘ or ‘Showing results for ‘ with the option to search with the misspelled word. With a misspelled search term AddSearch Widget view returns ‘fuzzy’ search results for the search term that bear similarity to the misspelled search term.
With GSA the user can provide user-defined results. According to GSA Help adding search results for certain keyword searches. User results appear for the specified keyword searches on the search results page of a specific front end.
AddSearch provides a similar functionality with a feature called the hidden keywords. With this feature, the user can associate keywords to an indexed web page which will boost the visibility of the indexed webpage in the search results when the hidden keyword is used as a search term.
The GSA provides a separate page for the search. It has the input field where the search term is written, categories for web, images, groups, news etc. as well as the selector from which sources (enterprise or web) the search results are returned from.
AddSearch has a similar view which is called the Separate Results Page view. It also has the ability to make faceted search queries (example page http://resultspage.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com/filters.html). The most striking difference is the thumbnail pictures that are rendered next to the textual content in the search results.
AddSearch also features the Widget view which is placed directly on the web page. The Widget view is very responsive. The search results are shown immediately after the user writes the first letter into the input field. The behavior is similar to GSA where the most searched keywords are suggested to the user under the search input field. Also, the search results are rendered as a list where each search result has a thumbnail picture, the contents text and a preview picture of the web page that refers to the search result.
As Google has offered GSA from as early as 2002, it is no surprise that there exists a very significant amount of support online for the device. The support ranges from written documentation and video training on youtube to discussion forums for administrators. Customers are also provided customer and technical assistance through the helpdesk.
The written documentation includes instructions to determining whether GSA can be implemented to the enterprise infrastructure technically. It also contains the instructions to mount the device as well as setting up the Google-powered search solution.
Youtube training can be found under the gsatraining YouTube-channel where you can find videos ranging from the basic deployment to intermediate and more advanced scenarios. The channel has 49 videos which provide 20-25 hours of training.
Discussion forum for GSA administrators is located at stackoverflow.com, which are questions tagged with ‘google-search-appliance.’ The forum contains active discussions under the tag.
How about AddSearch? AddSearch offers support from the web pages which are divided into Documentation, API Reference as well as helpdesk. Also, enterprise customers are offered services over the phone and screen shares.
The documentation, in more detail, is arranged thematically ranging from basic information and installation to setting up the outlooks and functionalities of selective indexing and filtering the search results.
The API reference is directed to those who are technically savvy and wish to have more leeway for customizing search to their liking compared to the default views, those of the Widget and the Separate Results Page views.
The customer and the technical service are there to catch the customer if there are any questions or need for assistance related to AddSearch services. Also, if a customer wishes to negotiate a quote, the sales representatives can be contacted.
How Does AddSearch Match GSA Features?
- Setting up: If we exclude mounting the hardware and the network configuration from the setup GSA is very straightforward to set up. This goes for AddSearch as in its simplest form all it takes is to add a single line of code or installing a plugin if you’re a WordPress user.
- Delivering Better Search Results: Both GSA and AddSearch have a self-learning algorithm which adjusts to the user interactions with the search over time. Misspelled search terms are handled by both the GSA and AddSearch making searching a lot more convenient. Also associating search results (specific web pages or other content) for specific keywords works on GSA and AddSearch as well.
- Use experience is where the differences are most visible. While GSA and AddSearch have the traditional search view (familiar from Google search) AddSearch adds visual elements to the search results. In addition to the visual elements, the search Widget returns the search results instantly from the moment the first letter is written in the search box.
- Support: While AddSearch has a well structured, concise and updated documentation the sheer amount of documentation for GSA can’t really be matched. AddSearch, however, has a dedicated and a highly professional helpdesk that solves any search related issue that may arise.
In conclusion, AddSearch matches most of the features with an almost exact match or in some cases with an alternative solution for the same problem. The greatest difference is the search user experience where AddSearch has taken a more visual and instant approach. AddSearch matches the sheer amount of documentation of GSA with a dedicated helpdesk.