Search as a Service: what it is and what it offers

January 4, 2023
Search as a Service: what it is and what it offers

The advent and growth of cloud computing over the past two decades has led to the explosion of a business model known as ‘Software as a Service’ (SaaS). SaaS offers businesses an extremely attractive alternative to the traditional way of running software (which involves buying a license to use the relevant software, deploying it using on-premise servers and having a dedicated team of developers and troubleshooters). 

With SaaS, instead of a more-or-less permanent license, you buy a monthly or annual subscription to the software you want to use. And then you simply access the software remotely, through APIs: you don’t need to worry about messy details like hosting, maintenance, upgrades, etc.!

A search engine that is made available to clients using a SaaS model is referred to as ‘search as a service’. Given the importance of fast and powerful search capabilities in today’s online landscape, making use of search as a service is a crucial move that most online businesses should take advantage of. Let’s better understand how search as a service works, and the large number of benefits it offers.

How search as a service works

In a nutshell, ‘search as a service’ refers to a site search engine that is developed, maintained and hosted by a service provider and made available to customers over the Internet. Customers (typically online businesses) can use such a search engine to index their website content; they can then integrate high-quality search functionality into their websites in the form of a search bar.

Search as a service allows businesses to focus on their core business and not worry about the complexities of hosting and maintaining a search engine. Additionally, this type of service often allows website owners to provide their site visitors with more features and flexibility than if they were to build and/or host a search engine themselves.

To make use of a search engine that is made available through a search-as-a-service model, an online business first needs to allow the search engine to access all the relevant data on its website. This data has to be fed to the engine in a certain specified format, such as JSON or CSV.

The search engine uses this data to create what is known as an index. An index is basically a table that associates words with the pages/products/content in which they appear. For instance, if you operate an ecommerce website and have several different boots among your offerings, then the index will match the word ‘boots’ with all the products that are boots or whose title/description/tags contain that word. 

Of course, whenever you add new content or products on your site, the search engine will need to reindex your website so as to take them into consideration as well. 

Typically, such a search engine can also access multiple distinct databases and combine their entries to form a single index. This is referred to as ‘federated search’. Federated search allows site visitors to have a better experience while allowing businesses to organize their databases in a rational and convenient manner.

Once an index has been created, you simply need to incorporate the search engine’s search bar into your website. This bar will serve as the front-end interface for the search engine’s APIs. Whenever anyone types a query into this bar, the search engine’s APIs will fetch the appropriate results from a remote server. And voilà: your site visitors can now start enjoying quick and relevant search results!

And while APIs might sound somewhat complicated to deal with, as mentioned above, many search-as-a-service engines provide easy integrations in the form of add-ons or plugins for popular hosting platforms.

Who can benefit from search as a service?

Even simple online businesses, such as small stores or monitized blogs, need to allow visitors and customers to quickly find whatever they are looking for. This means that they need to make use of a search engine that can provide fast and relevant search results. This is even more important for larger businesses: as the number of products or amount of content on your site increases, it becomes essential to ensure that your site visitors don’t get lost in a sea of irrelevant search results.

Thus, effectively every serious online business needs great search. However, developing and managing a custom search engine is a major undertaking in terms of time and money. In addition, the default search engines that come with popular content management systems (CMSs) and ecommerce platforms are often quite rudimentary, and may not give businesses the speed, accuracy and customizability that they may need.

Given that search as a service solves both these problems, it should be clear that it represents a boon for almost any online business.

The benefits of using search as a service 

1. A lower operational burden

This is probably the biggest advantage of using search as a service. By outsourcing the hosting and maintenance of search functionality, businesses can remain lean and focus on meeting their primary business goals. This leads to major savings in terms of money and time, and can also help keep employee morale high.

2. Speed and other features 

Since search as a service is offered by companies dedicated to refining search capabilities and algorithms, businesses can rest assured that their customers will have a blazingly fast search experience. In addition, search as a service usually also provides important search-related features such as autocomplete, multilingual search, typo tolerance, etc.

3. Reliability and scalability

Given that the hosting and deploying infrastructure is handled by a highly proficient third party, businesses that use search as a service don’t have to worry about issues such as failed requests or server crashes, regardless of the number of simultaneous site visitors they have. This allows them to scale up with confidence.

4. Personalization

Modern netizens take personalization for granted to a large extent, and can be disappointed by generic search results. Search-as-a-service engines can integrate with business websites in such a way that they can make use of searcher details to personalize the search results they show, thus improving your brand image among your site visitors.

5. Ready access to search analytics

Lastly, search-as-a-service engines can provide businesses with access to large amounts of search-related data, including: which queries produce no results, which queries convert best, which queries have the highest click-through rates, etc. All this data can be mined by businesses to improve their offerings (e.g. by adding content or products that addresses no-results queries), which can result in greater revenue.

Search as a service: great for users as well as businesses

Thus, it should be clear that search as a service provides online businesses with a wide array of search-related benefits that can help them thrive in today’s ultra-competitive online world. Moreover, by dramatically reducing the cost and time required to offer fast and highly relevant search results, such search engines can level the playing field for many relatively smaller businesses.

If you need state-of-the-art search as a service for your business, look no further than Zevi. With its easy-to-use plugin and a core based on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), Zevi offers intelligent and customizable search for a large number of verticals. Install our Shopify app now, or try Zevi out for free today!