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What you should know before picking your next site search provider

You’re there.

You’re switching ecommerce site search providers and you’re trying to find the best solution out there.

You’re comparing Unbxd vs Hawk Search vs Algolia vs Swiftype vs Instant Search vs Klevu vs Findify vs Searchspring vs “xyz” and “abc.”

We get it. It’s no fun.

How on earth do you tell us all apart?

Are you doing what most stores do? Are you stuck comparing features? Are you trying to find who has the most for the lowest price?

If so, you might be setting yourself up for another bad experience.

  • For one, it’s near impossible to know what every solution is fully capable of doing. As you’re becoming painfully aware, there’s not a single provider with a nitty-gritty detailed list of what they do and don’t do under every circumstance.
  • For two, with every provider being a SaaS solution, what might be true today, probably won’t be tomorrow. So, even if a list did exist, it’d quickly become out of date and full of errors.

Instead of going through the exercise of comparing features, we think there’s a more valuable and timeless approach for you to take.

As we see it, there are three stages every store goes through when choosing a 3rd party provider.

  • How do I get it?
  • What can I do with it?
  • How much does it cost?

Before we get into the list, can we be honest here?

We know, none of us has made it easy for you.

We’re aware that, unfortunately, all our marketing starts to look the same after awhile. We also know, once you’ve sat through a few demos, those begin to sound the same as well.

Truthfully, when it comes to ecommerce site search, nearly every solution out there has a pretty good product. We’re all easily capable of delivering relevant results.

The key difference is how each provider gets you there. Depending on how you operate your store and what you need, the how “can” have major implications for your store.

So, it all comes down to what you really need. You ought to focus on discovering which solution is the best fit, not who has the “best” features. You very well could pick the provider that hits every mark on your feature checklist and has the best price, but if they’re a bad fit… then, well, it’s obvious right?

If it’s a bad fit, it doesn’t matter how nice of a solution it is. A bad fit is a bad fit.

That’s what this list is. It’s everything you need to ask yourself and the provider to truly find the best solution for you and your store.

We’re confident once you do ask these questions, you’ll be able to confidently move forward with the provider who IS the best fit for YOU!

(Disclaimer: sometimes, that will be us, other times, we definitely won’t be the best fit, and that’s okay by us. If we’re a bad fit, then that’s bad for us too 🙂)

Chapter 1

How do I get the tool on my site?

The first question you should ask yourself is, “Do I need real-world human service or am I better served with a software-only solution?”

One primary differentiator between providers is those who include the TLC of experts and those who don’t.

Some of us provide white-glove integration, professional setup, ongoing consultations, and access to expert support staff.

The other half of the providers don’t. They’ll give you developer docs and call it a day.

Neither is inherently better than the other. It comes down to what you need from the solution. Do you want help, or are you a DIY’er?

Hold that answer for just a moment. Here’s how you can know for sure.

Do you have data issues?

Any and every solution is going to work with your data. Some grab your data feed, others hook into your platform’s API, and others scrape your data in a variety of ways.

How a solution grabs your data is important. What they do with it is even more important.

  • How straightforward is your data?
  • Is it perfect, or do you maybe have a few issues?
  • If it’s not perfect, how will that “imperfect” data be used by the solution?
  • Will imperfect data be ignored?
  • Will bad data throw an error?
  • Will all data, regardless of quality, be crammed through, breaking the shopper’s experience?

Furthermore, if there are issues, who fixes those issues? If you’re left on your own with a pure software solution, will you even know how to fix it?

I don’t think we’ve EVER seen “perfect” data. Not to say it doesn’t exist, but there’s normally always something.

Let’s put it this way. Maybe you have an identical store, same catalog, same theme, same platform, same everything to another store.

You WILL have different data from any other store. Humans are involved. Over time, data variance occurs. Methodologies are different. Internal business needs can dictate different processes. Etc…

Just because a solution works with your platform, or has other stores like you, that doesn’t mean the process will be flawless. Ensure that YOUR data can be used. Make sure you’re comfortable with how errors and issues will be addressed.

What happens to your UI/ UX?

Maybe you’re on Shopify or Magento with a very popular store theme and you haven’t customized or changed anything other than your logo and color scheme.

If so, then from a UI and UX standpoint, a one-click install should be seamless… should be. But, that’s what you need to find out for sure.

If you have any customizations, unique design patterns, enhanced functionality or anything that makes you “stand out” from your competition, then you need to make sure those changes will not be broken or lost.

If there’s custom work that needs to be done to ensure a seamless integration, find out who is responsible for those fixes?

If you’ve spent 6 figures getting your store into tip-top shape, ensure any 3rd party integrations are not going to undermine all that effort.

Who fixes the customization issues, you or them?

Do you lose any data equity you’ve already built up?

Odds are good if you’re switching site search providers the intelligence that has been accumulated will be lost.

It’s unfortunate. It sucks.

The good news though, some providers can soften that blow more than others.

While your automated relevancy may take a little time to build back up, there are steps some providers can do to make the transition period easier.

You’ve accumulated a ton of valuable data and that doesn’t have to be lost. While the automation may take a little while to catch up, you can offset that with several manual actions. You can also optimize the initial integration with the new provider, based on the learnings you’ve accumulated with your previous provider.

  • Migrate your synonym library and query redirects.
  • Create custom landing pages for your best performing queries.
  • Analyze your searches that generate zero results and fix those upfront with the new solution.

Suffice it to say, there are options to mitigate any data equity loss during a switch.

So, is that something you need? Is that possible with your provider of choice? If so, are you capable of doing that yourself? Would getting help be better? Is any of this even an option?

How to mitigate your data loss could prove to be a valuable differentiator depending on your needs.

Be sure to ask.

Chapter 2

What can the tool do and what can I do with it?

How to get the tool is one thing, what you can do with it is even more important.

Will the solution make your day to day easier or will it introduce a new burden that requires dedicated staff hours to manage? How do you tweak the performance or can you? How difficult is it to make changes and optimize?

If you have a dedicated dev team you’ll have one set of needs while another store who has a dedicated merchandising team with limited technical abilities will have categorically different requirements.

Is the solution built more for one team structure vs the other, or is it a one size fits all? Is a one size fits all optimal, or is that even possible?

How you will use the tool and who it’s built for should be at the top of your list. Get the tool that’s made for your way of doing things. It shouldn’t force you to change how you operate for the worse.

How automated is the automation and what settings can you set?

How much does the tool do on its own, and how much are you responsible for doing?

If it’s fully automated, and you want that, are all settings globally set?

If they’re global, are the settings the same for you as they will be for someone making 300% less revenue, 1/10th your SKU count, 20% of your traffic volume, in a completely different industry, with a team 1/5th your size?

Maybe, the tool is automated but gives you control to modify settings. How much control? Do you know the optimal settings for your store? How much time and effort will it take for you to trial and error those settings?

None of this is to stay you shouldn’t do it, but… can you?

If so, great.

If not, make sure you’re actually getting the solution optimized for you and your unique needs. If you need expert help, make sure that’s included.

And what about after integration. What happens with your day-to-day?

  • Can you optimize to make the tool better?
  • Does the tool give you the appropriate data to make those types of moves or is it a guessing game?
  • Is your team technically proficient enough to make those optimizations?
  • Do you have the bandwidth to do so?
  • Do you even want to do so?

Some stores have the team knowledge, the bandwidth, and the expertise to fully utilize a robust tool on their own. Other stores can quickly drown with an identical solution.

Make sure the solution you’re getting matches your team’s technical proficiency and bandwidth. Ensure you’re going to get a tool you can actually use the way you want and need.

What happens to your merchandising campaigns?

Along the same lines of losing your data equity, what happens to any merchandising campaigns you’ve set up?

Actually, let’s back up a few steps. Does your current solution offer merchandising control? Do you need merchandising moving forward? If so, what level of control do you need?

That alone will scratch off several providers from your list of potential options.

If you do currently have merchandising, and you have a considerable campaign strategy implemented, how much work will be involved in moving those campaigns to the new tool?

If site search settings are different between providers, the merchandising controls will be even more different.

Ensure the merchandising being offered is compatible with your way of doing business. At the very least, make sure the differences are not going to limit your ability to create, monitor, and optimize your merchandising in the future.

For example, if you’re accustomed to boosting your highest margin products to the top of the product results, can you afford to lose that functionality or not.

You will probably have to change a few things moving forward, just make sure you’re not throwing out the baby with the bathwater – meaning, don’t force yourself to re-learn what works and what doesn’t when it comes to merchandising.

Is it easy or hard learning how to manage the new software?

Can the tool do what you need it to do or does it require hacks and convoluted processes to get you there?

Can you continue to do what you’ve been doing on your own or do you have to create a support ticket to make even the simplest of changes?

Do you prefer to have the solution provider make the changes or is your team hands-on and likes to move fast?

Do you get adequate training on the new tool or are you thrown into the deep-end and expected to swim on your own? Can you swim?

It seems simple, but it’s often overshadowed by the flashier features. How simple is the tool to learn and use? Is it robust enough to do what you need or is it too much?

As mentioned before, some tools are built for stores who have teams of merchandisers, developers, and a host of other staff. Other tools are built to be left on auto-pilot with little to no management needed.

If you have teams, don’t get something that limits their ability to perform their tasks, and vice versa, if you’re leaner, don’t get a tool that is unmanageable – regardless of what flashy features and ROI numbers they’re showing in a demo.

If it doesn’t fit, then it’s not going to work the way it should, not for you.

Do you get support for when things go wrong?

It’s inevitable, something is going to go wrong. It might not be anyone’s fault, but an asteroid is going to fall someday. Coffee will be spilled on a keyboard. A problem is going to happen to your store.

What happens then?

Maybe your next marketing campaign blows up and you get 100x’s the expected engagement. Not a bad problem at all. It’s awesome… unless something breaks.

Are you and your team savvy enough and enjoy the technical challenges? Do you need to get on the phone with an expert?

What does the problem to resolution roadmap look like?

Make sure the tool you’re integrating is looking to the future and you’re going to get the control and/or support that you’ll need.

Chapter 3

Can I get more for less? The pricing discussion.

Without fail, price is on your list. Most likely, the thought goes something like this, “Can I get more features for less money?”

If that’s not you, and you’re the sole decision-maker, then you’re good.

However, if that question strikes a chord for either you or someone on your team, then read on.

It’s easy to tell the difference between a $50 solution compared to a $500 or $5000 solution. When the sticker price is that different, then it’s safe to assume price equates value, at least to some degree.

Yet, telling the difference between a $750 a month solution vs a $1000 a month solution is a lot more difficult.

If all things are equal, then a lower price tag wins, but you’ll rarely face an “all things being equal” comparison.

It’s easy to stop evaluating solutions at what you get. When you do stop there, then your decision does become a price comparison, in which case, the lower price normally wins.

That could wind up costing you a lot more in the long run.

When comparing similarly priced options, you need to remember, it’s not just what you get, it’s if what you get was made specifically for you.

Each solution is either built specifically for one demographic, or it was made for the whole lot, anyone and everyone.

You could save $250 a month, but if you integrate a product that is tailor-made for someone else, who isn’t like you at all, then you could wind up spending a lot more through the course of the year bending a tool to fit your needs.

Here are a few pricing questions you can use to probe if the sticker price is seducing you into a less than a prudent decision.

Does the integration process work to your benefit?

This one is simple, it boils down to who does what and if you’re paying for it.

With all the previous integration concerns mentioned above, are you confident in your team’s ability to integrate a DIY solution? If so, then ensure the product is optimized for that type of implementation. Some of them aren’t.

However, if you’re not into the idea of having your team dedicate resources integrating the solution, then don’t waste your time trial-and-erroring a DIY solution. A white-glove provider would be the more prudent choice. Let the experts do what they do best and you do what you do best.

If it’s a price decision, realize you are either going to pay for your time or the solution provider’s time.

Which one will bring you the most value for the monetary cost?

You either pay to become an expert or you pay an expert

Is it cost-efficient to spend your time tweaking settings and learning about best practices or is your cost better served to let the experts get it right the first time?

Each team is different, just as each solution is different. How well will the tool work for you and your team? Will it simplify your processes or will it require convoluted steps to get what you want?

Some tools leave little to manage, so expertise isn’t really a concern with ongoing optimizations.

Other tools give a ton of control. Some of these solutions are built with ease of use in mind while other solutions are built for the developer first.

  • Do you want control?
  • Do you want a user-friendly GUI and admin or do you need robust API access?
  • Will you have to be an expert to integrate, optimize, and manage the solution?
  • Is the tool built expecting you to be an expert?
  • Do you have or need access to the solution’s experts to do it for you?

Any solution you pick will need to be optimized for you and your store. Find out who does the work.

What is the true cost involved to get the most out of whatever tool you implement?

Who pays Murphy? What does the support structure look like?

Things will go wrong. If you’re not planning for that, then you could be setting yourself up for a very expensive year.

Are future problems accounted for in the price, ie. is support included? If not, are you okay with absorbing that cost and dedicating your developer resources and bandwidth to fix any future problems?

Murphy is very demanding, he always shows up at the worst times, and he will not go away until someone gives him his due.

Who’s going to pay Murphy?

It’s more than the price. Don’t forget about the ROI.

Ultimately, sticker price ends with ROI. There’s not much to say about it, but it can’t be forgotten.

Just be aware your sticker price isn’t your final true cost. As mentioned above, your true cost could wind up being a lot more per month than what you’re able to clearly itemize on your vendor’s list.

Let’s end with a simple example:

If you were to give me $1000 and I gave you $1100 back, that’s a 10% ROI. Pretty good deal.

However, if I required you to hand-deliver the $1000 to me at a location and time of my discretion, all at your cost, depending on where you are and where I am, you could wind up paying a lot more than the $100 you’d get back to make that exchange. It could be a bad deal even though on the surface it promises a 10% return.

Make sure the solution you’re getting does more than satisfy your feature checklist. Get the solution that is tailor-made for who you are and what you want to do.

Chapter 4

So, are we a good fit for you?

We’re a great fit for stores that want help.

If your data isn’t tip-top, we’re a great fit. We put human eyes and perform a data audit and consultation with every prospect – before a contract is ever signed.

If you have ANY customizations to your store, we’re a great fit. We are a white-glove integration solution. We take the time to match your store perfectly. Custom business logic, unique pricing rules, fancy CSS and JS implementations, we make sure it’s perfect.

If you want control without having to be a dev, we’re a great fit. While we do pride ourselves with our API access, we especially shine for ecommerce teams who need a simple way of getting complex campaigns launched.

If you want expert help without having to be an expert yourself, we’re a great fit. Our customer success and support teams are baked into every integration for the life of your contract. We want to help you with what we do best so you can keep doing what you do best.

Simply put, if you see issues with a one-click installation plug-in, we’re a good fit. If you have teams you don’t want to slow down learning and managing a needlessly complex DIY tool, then we just might be a great fit.