Personalization was a hot trend a while back. Now it’s table stakes – a minimum expectation. If you’re not doing it, you’re already behind. And the brands delivering the most value from personalization – think Amazon, Netflix — rely heavily on their users’ search behaviors to drive hyper-relevant experiences well beyond the search results page.
Our clients have identified intelligent search among their top strategic priorities based on its potential value to both their audiences and their businesses. And thus, some of the most frequent questions we get are about the three major search technologies in the Sitecore ecosystem: Coveo, Azure Search, and Solr. What’s the difference? And as a marketer, how do I make smart choices about search technology that can support my vision for truly individualized experiences?
Solr and Azure Search are considered the “default” search technologies supported by Sitecore, and each provides a solid foundation for basic search capabilities. Coveo, on the other hand, goes beyond the basic blocking and tackling of search to deliver true “experience intelligence” capabilities that make your users’ own behaviors work to your mutual advantage. Let’s look a little more closely at each of the options.
If you’re standing up a new Sitecore implementation today, you’ll default to Solr and/or Azure Search. Both excel at scalability, performance, and seamlessly indexing data and content from disparate sources, and they are highly customizable. Solr has some limitations when it comes to certain kinds of cloud-based implementations. Azure Search is still a relatively immature solution with its own limits, although it’s advancing fast with the power of Microsoft behind it.
Both solutions are highly extensible and flexible, which has its pros and cons. Think of them like a set of Legos. You need to build a car out of those Legos… so you can build it however you like, but it’s going to take you some time and effort.
Coveo, on the other hand, is like buying a Ferrari: it’s a state-of-the-art, fully realized solution and the only decisions you need to make are where to drive it and how fast. Some would argue that Coveo comes with Ferrari-style pricing too, and it’s definitely not inexpensive relative to the other two. But it generally requires far less time (and cost) to implement, and it puts many of its powerful capabilities directly in the hands of marketers – so you can execute your own tactics without having to rely on developers or other technical resources. This can reduce both operational costs and time-to-value.
And then there’s the feature set. Again, Coveo positions itself as an “experience intelligence” platform as opposed to a search technology. What do they mean by that? It goes beyond the typical rules-based personalization: “If user clicks on X link, put them in Y pattern and show them Z personalized content.”
Coveo takes that paradigm a few steps further. Keep in mind that what search platforms do, fundamentally, is build an index of all your content. Coveo adds a layer of artificial intelligence, enabling marketers to get more value out of that index:
- It learns from every query your users make, so it can return increasingly relevant results over time.
- It can return different, more relevant results to individual users based on its understanding of their specific needs.
- It identifies gaps in content and keywords that can help you optimize your content strategy.
- It works in concert with Sitecore to deliver search-driven personalization throughout the experience, not just on the search results page.
In short, Coveo can help you achieve the highly personalized results that previously have relied on separate testing, analytics, and recommendation engines. That’s what they mean by “experience intelligence.”
To be clear, both Solr and Azure have some machine learning/AI capabilities that could deliver similar outcomes. But they’re not as advanced as Coveo’s. And some of these capabilities are not (yet) supported by Sitecore; whereas, Coveo is fully supported.
We believe any Sitecore customer looking to compete with digital disruptors should consider implementing Coveo. As you plan your search strategy, be sure to loop in your technology partners and discuss:
- How you host/manage Sitecore: Are you on premise or in a cloud, and what kind of cloud configuration you’re using?
- Will your end–users need to search only for content stored in Sitecore or will search need to access content that might live in other systems?
- Will you require a custom search UI? Coveo, for example, has a default UI which is configurable up to a point, but changing the UI beyond that will require customization effort (time & $). Azure Search and Solr offer no out-of-the-box UI, so you’ll be starting from zero.
- Are you using Sitecore SXA? Coveo’s renderings are SXA compatible.
- How mature is your CX strategy? Coveo is a great tool to “grow into,” but you’ll get faster time to value from its more advanced features if you already have personalization tactics in place or at least in planning.
Have questions about implementing experience intelligence on Sitecore? We’re here to help.