Hosted Search Service, or Search Product: That is The Question!

Merchants who host their eCommerce sites, especially on open platforms such as Magento search extension and WordPress/WooCommerce, have a dilemma when it comes to choosing custom site search extensions or plugins for their sites: buying a license or choosing a cloud-based service. Even though as a hosted service provider, we may be somewhat biased, we thought this post would be useful for merchants debating the two options.

When you take aside specific product or hosted service features, you are left with three things to consider: cost of ownership, level of service, and performance.
Cost of Ownership can be tricky as there may be hidden costs in both product and a service in addition to the license or service plan subscription. These can include both labor and hosting costs such as setup, configuration, customization, maintenance, and hosting fees.

Cost of Ownership – Licensed Search Product

Licenses are priced as perpetual licenses, per site or per server. While the license is perpetual, it only includes updates and support for a year. This means that you will have to pay again in a year to renew the license. You should treat perpetual license price as a yearly subscription as you would not want to be out of support or updates. Pay close attention to price per server or site.

Developer Cost is something that you need to take into account. Any installation of software on your server, configuration, and customization requires developer hours, which in the US are around $100 per hour. This is not only on installation but along the way, when you make changes to your site, change the configuration of the extension and so on.

Hosting Cost may be hidden but rest assure that a busy search engine is yet another hungry consumer of your server resources – especially when a lot of traffic and images are involved. You may need a bigger server, or required to pay more for computing resources.

Cost of Ownership – Hosted Search Service

Subscription is usually priced by plans available on the website, or custom-priced by the vendor sales reps. Plans are monthly or annual and already include support and updates. You should watch for any other costs such as setup costs, configuration costs, customization, and so on.
Developer Cost is sometimes hidden in configuration, customization, or setup. Whenever asking for configuration, customization, or new feature – always ask if it is included in the price
Hosting Cost is already baked into the service subscription costs.

Speed & Latency are extremely important in search as users are conditioned by Google to get search results at lightning speed. Your search product performance will be determined by a number of factors such the strength of your server, the product search engine, the network bandwidth you bought, network traffic congestion, etc. Most importantly, search results speed depends on various caching mechanisms, including a search optimized Content Delivery Network (CDN). This is where hosted search services have an advantage, as they are designed from the ground up to provide high performance using cloud-based servers, search CDNs, and various caching mechanisms. You should test search latency not only from your desktop, but from various points of presence on the internet where your customer base is. Make sure that you get top performance as much as possible. This is especially important for your autocomplete product suggestions, where performance is measured by tens of milliseconds.
The level of service is important, as your visitors spend most of their shopping time in your search results page and product suggestions. The difference between product service and hosted service is the following: a good product service will provide you quick fixes or support to product only issues, but will not solve all the “other” issues that may be impeding your search; a good hosted service will simply make the problem go away, as they are responsible for the entire search experience.

So, when should you consider a product and when a hosted service?

Consider a Search Product if:

  • License cost is free or cheap / feature set is what you need now
  • You don’t care about developer cost, or you are the developer and love tinkering with stuff
  • Your search needs are so unique that you need a full custom job to implement (quite a rare case)
  • The search engine does not impact your big, fast server
  • Search results and autocomplete latency is good enough as seen from your user’s main locations

Consider a Hosted Search Service if:

  • Delivering lightning-fast search results and autocomplete is important
  • Your key search needs are covered by the service out-of-the-box
  • You don’t like to tinker with stuff, or you don’t like paying developers…
  • You would like to focus on commerce rather than technology integration
  • Subscription plan cost fits your current needs and no hidden costs exist