Buyers in both B2C and B2B buying cycles demand a relevant, personalised search experience to help them navigate the vast amounts of information required to make a decision. Whilst Google and other search engines do a great job of getting users as deep into the site as possible, it can be upwards of 30% of visitors who begin their journey at the site's home page, preferring site search over other navigation and menu elements.
Journeys which originate from a public search engine, typically lead users to pages that contain partially relevant information, not an exact answer, product or service they are looking for.
Search plays a pivotal role in the delivery of great customer experiences, however it is often overlooked when designing and implementing enterprise MarTech solutions such as Sitecore. Organisations looking to deploy Sitecore often believe that "if my site doesn't have search, then I don't need a search solution". It is important to remember that search underpins several key production capabilities particularly in a product like Sitecore.
Failing to invest in the correct search infrastructure can cause significant issues with the Sitecore XP platform including, poor UI performance, slow email dispatches, slow list indexing and segmentation.
For those organisations who need a world-class search experience for their website visitors, failing to invest in the right approach can not only result in a slow front-end searches, but also severely limit your ability to deliver table stakes features like faceting, boosting, relevance and tuning, custom field types, geospatial search and for those in the advanced space, AI powered search.
Sitecore has invested heavily in an incredible search framework that out of the box with minimal development effort will suit a large portion of customers. They also provide an extensible provider framework that allows 3rd parties to deliver even more powerful cloud-based search solutions, including our friends over at Coveo.
Well, we are not here to tell you that specifically today, there are plenty of write ups comparing all of the different options, including one of our own, comparing Azure Search to Solr (which we recently updated for 2021). Deciding between the default and Technology partner driven search solutions is incredibly subjective and typically requires a considered discussion with your Sitecore Partner to decide the right approach.
The safe option for the aforementioned "large portion of customers" is Solr.
This is in stark contrast to our previous view we have held since 2017 in that Azure Search was your go to. Sitecore had invested largely in Azure Cognitive Search and created the framework for easy deployments in Microsoft Azure PaaS, easily deployable and along with the Dataweavers technology stack, easy to manage.
However two big reasons why we have shifted our focus to Solr in the last 12 months.
Previously Solr and more specifically SolrCloud's general complexity and our Dataweavers mandate to be geo-scaled (even if only within country) across all implementations meant we had significant complexity to manage in the underlying Virtual Machines in order to achieve cost-effective scale.
We are also under the impression that Sitecore maybe retiring its support for Azure Search in the future, but this is mostly hearsay and we were unable to find any confirmation in Sitecore materials.
Sitecore has published a list of limitations for Azure Search.
You maybe also be thinking, what if I am happy with the limitations and don't expect to use any of those features you mentioned? Well, you are welcome to make your own path, so long as you consider that the cost of changing providers is not trivial and unlikely something you will want to tackle alone. We do offer it as part of our service catalog for Managed Service customers, but trust us when we say its a painful task!
We have established that in the absence of choosing a 3rd party provider like Coveo, we recommend Solr as your default search provider when deploying in Microsoft Azure. Side note: those deploying Sitecore XM, with low-complexity front-end search experiences are still safe to deploy Azure Cognitive Search.
The discussion now centers around how you should provision Solr or SolrCloud in a way that is easy to deploy, configure, manage, upgrade and most of all, cost-effective.
In the cloud, you typically have the following "diy" choices:
There are significant pros and cons to each approach, the approach we have found best is Option 5. So much so that we chose to migrate almost all our customers to our powerful AKS Multi-tenancy Cloud Platform. We are launching this service standalone for Sitecore customers in late January 2021. Stay tuned.
Apache Solr is a complex beast in production, here's our top list to help those on a Do-It-Yourself journey;
We know that planning a Sitecore deployment (or any enterprise Martech platform of similar capability) is an important and often time consuming process for even the most seasoned Sitecore Professionals. We hope this article helps you make informed choices on the underlying search provider, helps you avoid the mistakes we made getting to Solr on Azure AKS and reduces your time to market.
Next read: 5 reasons we chose to build our multi-tenancy Apache SolrCloud in AKS.
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