Buy or Build? The True Cost of Building Your Own Site Search

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Let’s face it: You want a site search tool on your website (that’s why you’re reading this, right?). Site search is nowadays a necessity instead of just a nice-to-have tool. But site search also pays out for you as a website owner, in fact, site search is 1.8x more effective at producing conversions.

As promising as that sounds, all the different options that are out there can be confusing. You probably don’t want to become an expert in site search (you have enough on your plate), so we put together this text to make it easy for you to decide. We will give you some clarity on what the difference is between buying a site search solution (like AddSearch) and building your own site search (with open-source), so you can choose the right solution for your needs.

Buy vs. Build: What are the options? 

There is no shortage of site search solutions from open source to specialized. But the biggest question you have to ask yourself is: do you want to build an internal search engine from scratch or buy from a search provider?

To decide on a solution that fits your needs, you want to consider what level and type of search customization you need, how big your developer team is, which resources you have, and the timeline you have in mind for implementing and maintaining your search. All of these factors affect which solution is ideal for you.

Let’s look a bit deeper into what options are available and what the true cost of implementing a search solution is, both short-term and long-term.

What is open-source search vs. hosted search solutions? 

When you are looking for a site search solution, you will stumble upon two major options:

Open-source search is a DIY approach to having a search functionality on your website. You implement it through free, open-source software such as ElasticSearch or Solr (to find out more, check out our article about Elasticsearch vs. Solr vs. AddSearch). While they offer more flexibility, you also will need a lot of resources from your developers to build a unique search application that fits industry standards.

Hosted search solutions like AddSearch offer you search as a service. Search functionality, hosting, operations, and maintenance are offered by the software provider. Most hosted searches offer a variety of out-of-the-box options to customize your search and adjust it to fit your needs. They also require a lot less time from your engineers and offer you an industry-standard search application that feels intuitive to the user.

Why choose an open-source solution?  

There are very few companies that actually benefit from building their own search. The most common reason for using an open-source solution is that your line of business has very rigid specifications for what you need to be able to do with your search (e. g. visual search) and you, therefore, want a high level of flexibility and customizability with your tool.

Companies that have large engineering and developer departments (like Google or Amazon) will choose to create their own search because they have the resources to develop, implement and maintain their search.

For these kinds of companies, the benefits of building their own search outweigh the challenges of the time and resource-intensive process: 

  • Flexibility: Creating your search will always give you more flexibility. You have to install and host it on a server, so you will have ownership of that server. You can also design a highly customized user interface from scratch. Of course, that means that you have to code that search interface and all of the features it needs, and therefore need a team of skilled developers.
  • Low initial cost: Open-source solutions can seem very attractive because they are often free or very low cost. This lower initial investment also means that you will have to invest a lot of your resources into building, maintaining, and troubleshooting your site search.

What are the challenges of open-source search?  

While you get a highly customized search option when you use open-source software, there are quite a couple of challenges that come with building your own search:

  • Resource-intensive: Open-source tools require a lot of custom development work to create the features and elements you want. Setting up and operating the search engines can take a lot of time from your developers that they can’t spend on other projects within the company. You also need to be aware of the fact that open-source tools are quite technically complex and you need the right expertise in your team to build and maintain the search.
  • Higher Total Cost of Ownership: While open-source solutions appear cheaper in the beginning, the long-term cost is higher. The overall price includes the cost of having a team of engineers working on the ongoing maintenance and updates of your search and the cost of hosting your own server.
  • Longer time-to-market: Whenever you want to introduce a new feature or make small revisions, in most cases it will take longer than you might expect. You will have to invest more resources and time than you would with a search as a service solution. In addition, your development team cannot work on other tasks in the meantime which means a higher opportunity cost.
  • No official support: Most open-source solutions do not offer any official support (ElasticSearch has some paid plans where support is included). But they usually have quite active communities where you can ask questions if you run into any problems. However, you must take into account that support or quick bug fixes may not be guaranteed.

Why choose a hosted solution like AddSearch? 

AddSearch offers ready-made solutions for search. You won’t have to worry about the maintenance and further development of the search engine themselves. There are different options on how you can implement search depending on your requirements and resources (check out our pricing plans).

If you have a small team of developers, a service as a search solution is most likely right for you. Users expect very high standards in their search thanks to popular platforms such as Google or Netflix. Hosted solutions like AddSearch offer that kind of great user experience with their search while being affordable in the long term.

In fact, choosing a hosted solution comes with many benefits:

  • Fast implementation: You can start using most hosted search solutions right away. In contrast, open-source solutions need to be downloaded, installed, and configured first. If you choose AddSearch’s Premium or Enterprise plan, we also help you with the implementation, including development and coding of the search.
  • Out-of-the-box features and easy customization:  Instead of having to code most features yourself, search as a service offers you many out-of-the-box features and easy customization options. With AddSearch, we offer different filters, facets, and sorting, auto-complete and suggestions, synonyms, and typos & promotions of certain content. You can also choose from our library of ready-made components to make the implementation process even faster and use our ranking tool to control your search results and to create a content scoring system to scale your search control process.
  • Built-in analytics & dashboard: Hosted solutions have analytics and dashboards to make it easy for you to capture valuable user data. In the case of AddSearch, you can use our dashboard to find out all kinds of information on how often your users search, what they search for, and whether they find it. You can also easily connect your search data to Google Analytics or Adobe Analytics to get detailed insights into your search performance.
  • Reliability and security: With a managed solution like AddSearch, you don’t need your own server. We ensure that our servers are secured and monitored 24/7 and that the search engine runs under optimal conditions. We use bank-level encryption when storing and transferring your data. However, this also means that you have no direct control over the infrastructure and will likely share servers with other customers.
  • Customer support: If you have any questions or struggles with your search, AddSearch offers excellent customer support (you can read our customer stories here). We provide priority support with our high-level plans to resolve your critical questions and issues quickly: we even have a 24/7 support option available for our Enterprise customers. If you don’t require priority support, we still respond to technical or administrative questions within one business day so you can get back to work instantly. In addition, we offer a live chat for quick troubleshooting sessions most of the time.

What are the challenges of hosted solutions? 

Of course, there are also some cutbacks with choosing a hosted solution:

  • Less flexibility: Search as a service will never be as flexible as an open-source option. Building something from scratch allows you to control every minor detail. At the same time though it requires you to take care of every minor detail. AddSearch’s user interface is highly customizable and you can find many easy use cases in our UI library.

What is the right solution for you: Open-Source or AddSearch? 

Many of our customers come to us because they have tried to build their own internal search but realized the intense cost and effort it entails (read the case of Point Loma Nazarene University here). While open-source solutions look cheaper in the beginning, they will cost you more long-term.

If you want to have full control over your search solution, servers, implementation, and design, a do-it-yourself approach is definitely the right option. However, if you don’t have very rigid requirements for your site search and want to enjoy a simple and effective solution, go with AddSearch. We offer various basic and advanced search capabilities that you can use quickly and safely on your website or web app.

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