Most eCommerce shops have some kind of search functionality, which is a good thing since about one in three visitors uses internal eCommerce search to find products or deals.
However, most shopping carts only support basic search functionality. For example, Magento will conduct searches using SQL syntax, such as “LIKE” or “FULLTEXT”. These commands search for keywords or phrases that match a product’s title, description, or other attributes.
The problem is that visitors can’t narrow down search results using other factors. For example, suppose that a visitor wants to see only extra-large T-shirts. Search results may be sorted by the percent match to the keyword rather than popularity, average rating, or other more relevant sorting methods that could improve conversion rates. And if a visitor misspells a word, they might not see any search results at all.
The good news is that any eCommerce shop can have these Amazon-like features using a free and open source solution — Apache’s Solr. For example, a visitor can easily search clothing by brand, size, and other attributes, as shown on the left of the image below.
What is Solr?
Solr is a highly reliable, scalable, and fault tolerant enterprise search platform that powers the search and navigation features of many of the world’s largest websites. For example, the White House, Netflix, StubHub, and the Internet Archive all use it to power their search.
Some of the major benefits include:
- Advanced Search Capabilities – Solr supports powerful matching capabilities, including phrases, wildcards, joins, groups, and much more across any data type. The technology also includes faceted search, autocomplete, spell checking, and more.
- Highly Scalable and Fault Tolerant – Solr has been proven at extremely large scales since it powers many of the largest websites in the world. The technology includes replication, distribution, rebalancing, and fault tolerance out-of-the-box.
- Standards-Based Interfaces – Solr uses XML, JSON, and HTTP to make it easy to integrate into any web application. The technology can index your data as JSON, CSV, or XML, while you can query using a REST interface or native clients.
- Easy Administration – Solr ships with a built-in, responsive administration user interface that makes it easy to control your instances. If you need more insights, the technology publishes a lot of metric data via JMX for further analysis.
- Flexible and Extensible – Solr is designed to be easy to configure out-of-the-box with many well-defined extensions to add functionality. For example, there are optional plugins for indexing rich content, language detection, search clustering, and more.
Why Use Solr?
Where’s the first place you go when looking for a new product? If you’re like most internet users, you probably use a search engine (e.g. Google) or site search field (e.g. Amazon).
The problem is that most eCommerce websites have abysmal search engines. For instance, Baymard found that the vast majority (70 percent) of eCommerce search implementations were unable to return relevant results for product-type synonyms, while more than a third didn’t return useful results when searching for a model number or a misspelled word with just a single character misplaced in the product title.
According to eConsultancy, site search visitors convert sometimes up to 5-6X higher than the average non-site search visitor, but only 15 percent of companies have dedicated resources to optimizing the site search experience.
Solr makes it easy to solve these issues and help visitors find what they need with powerful features like relevancy, product promotion, boosting, and dynamic faceted navigation.
Some of the key benefits of using Solr include:
- Faceted Search – Visitors can narrow down search results by price, brand, or other product characteristics to more quickly find what they want to purchase.
- Autocomplete – Autocomplete helps visitors improve their queries before submitting a search request and visiting a search results page. It can also help correct any misspellings, find more applicable synonyms, and even enable faceted search.
- Synonyms & Linguistics – Solr helps visitors find what they want when using synonyms or if they make spelling mistakes.
- Recommendations – Recommendation engines can help improve search result pages by providing customized product lists that are more likely to convert.
- Detailed Analytics – Solr generates detailed search behavior analytics that can be valuable when looking for ways to optimize conversions.
- Faster Search Queries – Solr is much faster than SQL-based search engines, especially given its enhanced capabilities.
Solr can be even more powerful when adding third-party extensions. For example, Avatria Convert integrates with Solr to leverage behavioral data from Google Analytics to optimize category, navigation, and search results pages. This can significantly improve conversions rates by showing products that customers are most likely to purchase first. More on Avatria Convert is included at the bottom of this article.
eCommerce Platform Integrations
You can certainly configure Solr from scratch using its extensible API along with the ability to write custom functions, but the easiest way to get up and running right away is using a pre-built integration with your eCommerce platform. That way, you have some basic (and advanced) functionality built in but also have the ability to customize the results.
Site search is an area where most eCommerce shops could improve their conversion rates and revenue by making relatively simple internal changes.
Solr for Magento
Magento ships with a sample Solr configuration that enables you to leverage the technology’s powerful features without needing to customize any code. This out-of-the-box integration includes better search performance, catalog views, and layered navigation. The integration even avoids common scaling pitfalls, such as frequent updates of the SQL database’s full-text table and issues with database locks, without the need for further configuration.
Solr for WooCommerce
WPSOLR is a popular WordPress plugin that makes working with Solr a lot easier. After you have installed Solr on your host, you can use the plugin to automatically manage many of the common administrative tasks and integrate search functionality out-of-the-box.
Here’s a live demo of WPSOLR with a WooCommerce store containing more than 15,000 products:
Solr for Other eCommerce Platforms
Most popular eCommerce platforms have vendor-provided or third-party add-ons to add Solr functionality. In general, you can find these integrations by searching for them on vendor marketplaces, Google, or GitHub. Some eCommerce platforms may also support Solr out-of-the-box or even include it as their default search engine. This may be the case for cloud-based eCommerce platforms solutions.
Solr is better than SQL-based search queries that come standard with most eCommerce platforms. Using faceted search, shoppers can narrow down search results to find what they need, while viewing products by popularity.
But, it’s equally important to look at the search result pages that come after a search query is executed. How are these products organized? Are visitors likely to find what they need?
Avatria Convert can help improve search functionality by another order of magnitude by harnessing the power of machine learning. Using existing Google Analytics customer behavior and shopping data, we help you intelligently prioritize products in search results. It’s also very quick and easy to implement.
Avatria Convert also integrates with Solr out-of-the-box, which makes it easy to get up and running with minimal effort. Once you have Solr setup, you can add the Convert plugin and immediately access the benefits of both search and optimized search results pages.
If you’re interested in learning more, start your free trial and start improving your conversions today!
The Bottom Line
Site search is an area where most eCommerce shops could improve their conversion rates and revenue by making relatively simple internal changes. By adopting Solr, you can dramatically improve search results by accounting for factors beyond search terms, while helping users filter results to find what they want to purchase.
If you’re interested in taking things one step further, Avatria Convert can help you leverage Google Analytics and shopping behavioral data to fine-tune these search results and increase the likelihood of a purchase.