For some years Google offered website owners an easy way for users to internally search their website. This was a white-label solution that blended seamlessly with a site design without Google branding or advertising that users would typically see from a Google search.
But every great party must end, and at least we know when that will be: March 2018. That is the “go-dead” date when Google Site Search will end their paid option and offer their search solution for free. However, this release supports some painful restrictions that most business owners will want to avoid. For example, there are significantly low search limits and there is the very real possibility of competitors’ ads showing up directly on your website.
Therefore, to keep your business running smoothly, now is the best time to start looking for a replacement for Google Site Search (GSS). The alternative would result in potential visitors leaving your site via Google ads if you are unable to provide the answers they are looking for. One caveat of note: If your website’s revenue is generated through display and search ads, Google will pay for any ads that are clicked on in internal site search that take visitors to another website.
If Google Won’t Do it, Should I Build a Site Search Myself?
A seasoned programmer may consider writing their own replacement from scratch in an attempt to build a better mousetrap. However, the intense suite of features included with GSS and the competing services makes this a much bigger task than it seems.
Here are a few of the anomalies that will trip up even the most diligent coder:
- Spelling Correction ▸ “spellcheck” = “did you mean spell check?”
- Synonym Matching ▸ close = near
- Date Biasing ▸ Newest (or oldest) shows first
- Bigram Matching ▸ dog house = doghouse
- Stemming ▸ snake = snakes
- Phrase Matching ▸ “scam” does not equal “scamp”
Does Every Site Need an Internal Site Search?
The value of installing internal site search on your website is entirely dependent on how many pages you have and how frequently you add new pages to your site with indexable information.
For example, a large multi-national retailer with hundreds of categories and thousands of products would absolutely require internal site search. Similarly, a publisher with a constant flow of content would find site search improves the reader’s experience while keeping the audience on their site.
Does Every Page Need to be Searchable?
For an e-commerce store, this is usually going to be a simple “yes”. You will need to have all your product pages searchable and therefore an internal solution will be required.
For the majority of organizations, determining the number of pages on your website is not always a straightforward task. Some WordPress plugins have a bad habit of duplicating content feeds resulting in the creation of unneeded pages. These additional pages should not count towards the total pages that should be searchable.
Only one of these duplicate pages is necessary.
A company blog can also add a large number of pages that may or may not directly relate to your sales funnel, and therefore do not need to be searchable. An “About Us” page or staff bios are excellent examples of this.
Blogging: A Core Product or a Nice-To-Have Site Element?
A blog is important to the marketing and branding strategy for a progressive organization. The question is whether your blog is the point of the site or a secondary added value element.
If the blog is core to your revenue (possibly via banner ads) you need to count those pages among those that have to be searchable. If the blog is secondary, it is optional to count or exclude those pages in the total number of pages. That will determine if you will get (or keep) internal site search.
Your blog is important for building industry recognition,
but unlikely to be your customer’s final conversion location.
So If Not Google, Then Who?
We’ve vetted the top 8 alternatives to replace Google Site Search and we’re surprised at the vast differences in both prices and features. For your convenience, we’ve listed the comprehensive results below.
|Service or Software||Introductory Pricing||Developer Required||Geo- location||Analytics||Used By|
|Algolia||Service||$49 /month (Free Option)||No||Yes||Yes||· Medium · Product Hunt · Twitch |
|Apache Solr||Software||Free (Open Source)||Yes||Yes||Yes||· Sears |
|Elastic- search||Available as Either||$45 /month (Free Option)||Yes||Yes||Yes||· Netflix |
|AddSearch||Service||$29 /month (Subscription)||No||No||Google Analytics integration||· Metro News |
|Amazon Cloudsearch||Service||~$50 /year |
(pay as you go)
|Microsoft Azure||Service||~$75 /month (pay as you go) |
|Yes||Yes||Yes||· Autotrader.ca |
|Cludo||Service||$299 /month (Subscription)||No||No||Yes||· Technical University of Denmark|
|Swiftype||Service||$299 /month (Subscription)||No||Yes||Yes||· CBS |
Service or Software
Years of car ownership has led many to the decision that it’s better to lease and not to buy, and though car models change year to year, staying on top of technology trends probably isn’t your core business. This is why Software as a Service (SaaS) has become so popular for a variety of solutions, not just internal site search. Leasing the software means that the organization is not on the hook for updates and repairs. Offering this as a service is also better for security by making the code unknown to prospective hackers.
SaaS costs a bit more, but requires saves you from maintenance.
To cut costs in the long run, installing one of these software options on your site will require two items to be true in your situation. (1) You need total control of your web hosting—allowing you to install your own scripts, and run them in the language of your choosing. And (2) You need to be able to afford the cost of hiring a web developer to install and configure the code.
For our research, we decided to showcase the point of entry costs. As such, all prices listed are for the starter packages offered by each provider.
With the “pay-as-you-go” options, the charges are variable, fluctuating month by month, based on how many visitors used the search function on your website.
With both open source options, you can install the software on your server free of charge with no restrictions. While they are free to use, it will increase web server traffic, which may increase your website hosting costs.
While some solutions offer a free optional tier, at this level of service the provider logo (but no competitor ads) will be included in the search results, and the traffic volume allowed is a fraction of what is available with their starting paid plan.
For a small business—perhaps just a one person shop—you may have opted to forgo hiring a web developer, in favor of a simple DIY solution like Shopify. If this description fits your situation, you will want to avoid the solutions marked as “Yes” in the “developer required” column.
If you do need a web developer, we are ready to help!
If your company needs to monitor the user flow through your search solution—to determine if it’s configuration needs adjustment, or just to gain marketing insights—then you will need a solution that includes some form of traffic analytics. Adding this tracking feature is ubiquitous among providers, although the integration process may vary in complexity.
A business owner observing his customers in their natural habitat.
If you have customers in a variety of regions, you may want to serve separate search results for your website. These search results can be separated by cities, national boundaries, or somewhere in between.
Adaptarse a Sus Clientes • Adaptez-vous à vos Clients • Anpassung an Ihre Kunden
All of the solutions mentioned in our list are scaleable as user traffic volumes and website sizes increase. It should be mentioned that scaling up in this fashion will generally result in increased costs.
Offering site search for your users will reduce bounce rates as well as the number of people forced to turn to Google to look for your product or service. This, in turn, eliminates the chance that they will do business with your competitor. And while none of the search solutions listed here are truly free (with no caveats), for a large enough website the ROI on retaining customers is invaluable!
Make sure to return to our blog for additional marketing tips!