Why use the search service Algolia? Well, when your website reaches a certain size, you may start to become a victim of your own success. Because of the sheer volume of content, stuff that may be of interest starts to get hidden from your visitors. This is equally true if you run an eCommerce site and your product portfolio expands. So, you need to start giving serious consideration to how you can give visitors a helping hand to find that product, article, or other stuff that they are craving for. Perhaps the best way to do this is to provide a way for visitors to search your site to find the content they desire.
Providing the means to search for site content helps visitors to locate useful information that keeps them on your site. But like all good things in life, this comes with a price. Search is a resource-intensive action. To sift through the source data and return a meaningful response can take an awful lot of computation. This only increases as your amount of searchable data increases. A meaningful search operation is resource-heavy. The operations required to find matches and then sorting the returned results will use a lot of resources.
To Design Or To Use An Off-The-Shelf Product?
Consequently, the way forward is to design and implement a search tool for your site. Simple right? Well, actually, not so simple. Building your own search tool moves you out of the realms of websites and into the territory of ‘proper’ development. You will need to have an understanding of computer science, particularly algorithms, their overheads, Big O notation. Also, you may very sensibly decide that you would prefer to use an off the shelf product as-a-service that someone else has developed.
I reluctantly came to the same conclusion. I don’t have the expertise, enthusiasm, time, requirement, or experience to develop a bespoke search engine from the ground up. So I decided that I should use one from an as-a-service provider. And that’s what I did – I used Algolia.
Search service Algolia is awesome! It is a flexible, powerful, and relatively uncomplicated tool that is provided as-a-service. This means that the heavy lifting of the algorithms is carried out away from your site. You won’t notice any performance issues and the search results are returned swiftly.
There is a really useful 30-second overview of the tool available on YouTube:
You have to do a little prep work before using the search. As part of the set-up, you have to provide indices for the search. Hence you need to make sure that sure your site has a suitable structure. However, if your site uses a CMS, you will already have a well-formed website, so this is not a problem.
To get up and running Algolia provide a series of very useful videos that provide an overview of what it can do.
These videos explain how to set up the search far better than I could.
And You’re Off!
Once you are off and running, you can get at the good stuff. For example, you can prioritise how your search results are sorted. Algolia enables you to give a different weight to elements. If you want the results to return in a particular order, you can do that. Just search for results that find the search term in the title above a result that mentions the term in the text.
Provided that you have identified and declared the searchable attributes, deciding whether they return ordered or unordered, you can give these elements a ranking. The ability to order the results is surprising granular – even down to using the geolocation of the searcher to provide location-relevant content.
The platform enables you to configure your search instance using the API or without code via the dashboard. They generously provide Getting Started Tutorials for both methods.
An Aid For Your Marketing and Selling Capabilities
The tool is most definitely aimed as an aid to your marketing and selling. There are easy to follow metrics that let you know what is happening search-wise on your site. You can use these metrics to ensure that you are providing the best possible experience for visitors. There is even the capability to conduct A/B testing on your configuration.
Algolia provides you with the means to associate synonyms with search terms. This enables you to direct your visitors’ searches to other relevant items, therefore allowing you to present visitors with upselling or side selling opportunities relevant to their searched term.
Additional Help And Capabilities
If you get stuck with your configurations, there is a well-trafficked forum and an Open Question section where you can ask questions. Or you could consult the usual FAQ and Guide sections. Additionally, there is a Show and Tell section. This is where developers brag about their creations and make you realise your own inadequacy, or perhaps inspire you to greater heights. Whatever.
My review is only a brief glimpse into Algolia’s capabilities. Most noteworthy, there is a comprehensive set of user documents. You can use to take you through the entire process of setting up your search environment and teach you what metrics, etc. are available. These documents are really helpful and reasonably straight forward to follow. They even provide an interactive tutorial. That said, having an understanding of “dev-speak” is most definitely beneficial when using the docs. Although not necessarily essential.
Bottom line: Algolia provides just about anything that you could need in an as-a-service search engine. Most of us will probably only ever require to use the normal search functionality. However, it is comforting to know that the application is powerful, adaptable, and flexible enough to provide advanced functionality should you require it.
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