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.  

If you’re interested, you can find more information on GSA Google’s support pages

When we look at the features GSA we can see similarities to search solutions that are called a site search today, the ease of setup, the possibility of indexing content from multiple domains and powerful search features that return results in one place from various sources.

We will guide you through three categories of site search which, in our opinion, can replace GSA on an enterprise level as well as on a smaller scale. Our guide includes the following categories of site search 1) cloud-based site search, 2) server-based CMS native site search, and 3) SaaS (Software as a Service) site search.

Cloud-based Site Search

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is a widely used cloud-computing platform which offers cloud-based computing resources. The user can choose from a variety of operating systems with pre-loaded software ranging from web servers to site search solutions.

Amazon also offers a dedicated web service called CloudSearch which has carefully selected technology for searching indexed data. The data, however, needs to be crawled and indexed by the user and supplied to the CloudSearch. The advantage of the user provided index, on the other hand, is that site search can return search results from multiple sources, those of private and public servers for instance.

Due to the possibilities in scalability, importing the index and a variety of operating systems and software setups, AWS is an excellent choice for an enterprise level site search. Setting up a cloud-based site search may require technical expertise.

You can find more about the features, the setup, and the pricing at AWS  and the AWS CloudSearch webpages.

CMS Native Site Search

The most common implementation of a server-based site search can be found from Content Management Systems (CMS), such as WordPress, Drupal or Joomla! – just to mention a few. Usually, the site search comes pre-installed with the CMS and can be implemented to the website without any technical expertise. While the CMS native site search is easy to implement the features of the search may be very basic.

It is also notable that the search is confined to a single source, which is the CMS database. Thus combining search results from multiple domains using the CMS native search are not possible.

The CMS native search uses the resources of the same server where the CMS is located. When a user searches, the results are requested from the database of the CMS. If there is a significant number of search requests, it can create load on the server which, in turn, may affect the responsiveness of the CMS-based website located on the server.

CMS native search suitable for smaller scale websites. While the search is easy to implement the searchable content is confined to a single source. The search also may affect the performance of the CMS-based website as the data is requested from the CMS database.

You can find more information on the most popular CMS at the following web pages WordPress, Drupal, Joomla!

Software as a Service site search

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.

Here are some of the benefits of SaaS site search:

  • The cloud-based computing resources it doesn’t share computing resources with the server of the website.
  • The cloud-based computing resources enable the scaling of the SaaS site search which of course is dependent on how the service provider has designed their services.
  • Support for crawling as a service for multiple domains that can be combined in the search results.
  • Well designed User Interface (UI) for the search widgets.
  • The software is developed and maintained by the service provider.
  • Offers technical and customer support.

SaaS site search can be used both on an enterprise level websites as well as on smaller scale websites. Below you can find feature comparisons of the three fully featured site search solutions

Algolia

Algolia is a fully featured site search that provides powerful tools for developers. It is suitable especially as an enterprise level site search solution. The pricing for Algolia starts at $35 / month.

Features

  • Instant search results
  • Multi-language search    
  • Geo-distributed datacenters (addon)
  • Typo tolerance    
  • Custom synonyms    
  • Hidden keywords    
  • Custom crawler (addon)
  • Curated search results    
  • Customize the search results to match your site    
  • Ad-free

You can find more information at https://www.algolia.com/.

Swiftype

Swiftype is a fully featured site search solution which also supports indexing personal data as well as data from applications. It is suitable for enterprise level as well as for smaller scale websites. The pricing for Swiftype starts at $79 / month.

Features

  • Multi-language search    
  • Typo tolerance    
  • Custom synonyms    
  • PDF support (in Pro plan $199 / month)
  • Custom Crawler
  • Curated search results    
  • Customize the search results to match your site    
  • Ad-free

You can find more information at https://swiftype.com/.

AddSearch

AddSearch is a fully featured site search solution with the possibility for AJAX crawling. It is suitable for enterprise level as well as for smaller scale websites. The pricing for AddSearch starts at $29 / month.

Features

  • Self-learning algorithm
  • Instant search results
  • Multi-domain search
  • Multi-language search
  • Geo-distributed datacenters
  • Typo tolerance
  • Custom synonyms
  • Hidden keywords
  • Search analytics with unlimited history
  • PDF support (with Plus add-on, $29 / month)
  • Custom crawler
  • AJAX-crawling (for enterprise customers)
  • Unlimited searches
  • Curated search results
  • Faceted search result filtering
  • Customize the search results to match your site
  • Ad-free
  • Tailored services for enterprise customers (project duration estimate 1-2 weeks)

You can find more information at https://www.addsearch.com/.

In Conclusion

The benefits of cloud-based site search are its scalability and the possibility to customizing the search. The downside is that setting up and customizing the site search will require technical expertise. For those who have the technical knowledge to manage a site service in the cloud, a cloud-based site search solution is a feasible option.

The benefit for CMS native search is the ease of installation, and the downside is that the computing resources are shared with the site search, the features may be very basic, and the search results are confined to CMS database. A CMS native site search will most likely be a good option to those who don’t have large amounts of searches on their website and do not need to combine multiple domains in the search results.

SaaS site search has the best of both worlds. It is easy to set up, and it makes use of the computing resources on the cloud. SaaS site search is a good option for those who wish to have a site search up and running on their website with the least amount of effort while getting hands-on to advanced features the service has to offer.