When Sitecore announced their Cloud Offerings at Sitecore Symposium in October 2022, It crystalized their composable strategy in providing separate product offerings that were each best of breed but could be better together. When you look at Engagement Cloud and Commerce Cloud, with products that have clear capabilities with little cross over, that strategy is well understood.
But when you look at Content Cloud, things get a bit more fuzzy. Even more so when you consider how their platform DXP solutions do very similar things. With multiple CMS offerings and several “Content Hub” products, it may not be clear what are the differences and when should you consider one product versus another. In this series I’ll compare and contrast these options. Looking back at my first post I compared Sitecore’s CMS offerings. In my second post, I covered Sitecore’s Content Hub offerings. Today I’ll look at Sitecore Search and other composable alternatives.
The Need for Composable Search
Sitecore’s flagship CMS product, XM Cloud brings a different architecture compared to the traditional platform DXP. Sitecore XP and XM required a SOLR instance to manage internal search features, but also supported website search needs.
When items were published, it automatically updated the search index, keeping results up to date, and that index could be queried using Sitecore’s Content Search API, a flexible API that was easier to use than consuming the SOLR API’s directly. Sitecore’s SXA toolkit even provided additional features to make it even easier to configure queries and boosting rules, but everything was dependent on the content search API’s and SOLR.
XM Cloud is a pure SaaS solution for content management. It does not include indexes for published content as content is only published to “Experience Edge.” Although under the covers, it does leverage SOLR for internal search needs, it does not provide the ability for you to create custom indexes, and the Content Search API is not supported. XM Cloud doesn’t include Content Delivery servers, so there is no place to serve a custom search API from.
XM cloud does support graphQL, which does provide the ability to run simple queries against the content published in Experience edge. This does not support features like faceting, boosting, or any other advanced relevancy features.
So websites on XM Cloud that require more than simple query capabilities need to find another solution. This is not only needed if implementing a site search feature but any other feature that requires faceting and filtering. Blogs, News, Events, Locations, and other similar features would require a composable search solution.
Even if you’re not on XM Cloud today, you may want to consider the implications of these architectural restrictions when implementing search features on your site today. If you want to be able to move to XM Cloud in the future, you’ll need to remove any dependencies on the web index, content search API’s and CD servers in order to do that. Even those these techniques may work on a headless solution running on XP or XM today, you’ll need to rewrite that functionality completely in order to move to XM Cloud. It may be better to invest in a composable search solution today to avoid having to throw away that code in the future.
Benefits of Composable Search
Besides compatibility with modern architecture’s, composable search solutions offer a number of advantages over Sitecore’s out-of-the-box search capabilities. These include:
- Search Component Library – Composable search solutions usually provide a robust UX library that includes common features like type-ahead, faceting, filtering, sorting, paging, and other features that visitors have come to expect. These are usually provided as configurable and themeable components that reduce the implementation effort over building the experience from scratch.
- Ease of Management – Composable search solutions usually provide a web-based interface that allows less technical users to manage the search experience. From configuring relevancy rules to controlling the search interface itself.
- Better Relevancy – Composable search solutions usually support better relevancy results, leveraging machine learning models and AI to improve results and improve conversions.
- Analytics & Reporting – Composable search solutions usually include tracking of what’s being searched for, clicked and goals converted and create reports that show you how well search is performing. There usually are dashboards that show you what search terms are popular, which ones are ineffective and which ones don’t have any results. All of this can help you plan your content strategy.
- Ability to Index Multiple Sources – Another key benefit of composable search solutions is that you are not limited to just indexing content on your website. You can index content on multiple sites or even additional sources, although some solutions may require additional licensing.
XM Cloud Roadmap Guide
XM Cloud is the future of enterprise content management offerings. The new sites, pages, and components tools offer an efficient content author experience that is not available with other CMS systems.
In October 2022, Sitecore announced a new composable search product: Sitecore Search. Building off the search technology behind Sitecore Discover (formerly Reflektion), Sitecore Search aims to bring the relevancy, speed and flexibility of Sitecore Discover’s product driven search to content-based search.
Other Perficient bloggers have written in-depth articles about how Sitecore search works and what it’s capabilities are, which are all worth a read, especially if you’re moving toward an implementation phase. I suspect many clients will purchase Sitecore search when they license XM Cloud as it fills a functionality gap, and there will be additional advantages to leveraging Sitecore Search with XM Cloud over using other options:
- Unified Tracking – Sitecore is working on a unified tracking approach that will reduce the overhead of tracking events to drive analytics across their composable suite. This will avoid having to fire multiple events to multiple tracking targets to support Sitecore’s multiple composable solutions that require analytics to properly function.
- Indexing Experience Edge – Content published to Experience edge may include additional fields not rendered on the page. Being able to combine rendered content with additional meta data stored in the CMS could help drive additional relevancy and should be an area that Sitecore supports in the future.
For more details on Sitecore Search, read this series of posts by Eric Sanner.
Common Search Alternatives
It is worth noting that there are other composable search options to consider besides Sitecore search. There are many platforms that support enterprise search needs, but there are a few that we tend to see used with Sitecore implementations.
Coveo and Sitecore have a long history. They’ve filled a lot of the gaps that out of the box Sitecore required customization to achieve. It integrated directly into Sitecore, re-indexing on publish, and provided some of the best AI driven search results available. Today, Coveo remains a market leader in search experience. Perficient even has a Coveo practice with 6 Coveo MVP’s supporting customers on the platform with and without Sitecore.
Coveo is probably one of the most fully featured solutions out there, but also more expensive than some of the other options. But there are some key requirements that would quickly make it the best option including:
- Security Trimmed Search – Coveo Supports a robust security model so you can make sure your visitors have access to all the content being returned in the search results.
- Connect Multiple Additional Sources – Coveo has a robust connector library. If you are trying to federate search with other content sources, using these connectors saves a ton of time.
- Integration with XP Marketing Features – If you’re still using XP, Coveo actually can integrate directly with xDB and supports personalization of search results based on
For more details on Coveo and its capabilities in a Sitecore context, read this article from Martin Miles.
Search Stax Studio
Sitecore customers may be familiar with Search Stax as a SOLR PaaS solution. Sitecore Managed Cloud customers typically used this service to manage their SOLR environments. Search Stax Studio is a separate stand-alone composable Search solution that can be integrated with XM cloud or any other site to provide search capabilities.
Although this option is probably one of the more affordable options, it brings a lot of functionality that meets most search requirements out of the box including search components, analytics, auto suggest, related searches and more.
For more details on implementing Search Stax Studio, read this article from Martin Miles.
Why You Shouldn’t Roll Your Own
You may be tempted to build out your own search implementation, especially if you have simpler requirements. I strongly suggest not to go down that path. The complexity of such solutions is deceptively complex. As you peel down that onion, you’ll find even more complexity. (Zolpidem) And any of these composable search solutions will be much more robust than anything you roll your own. Don’t forget about indexing, performance, troubleshooting and monitoring, not to mention effort needed to build a custom search interface.
If you don’t want to heed this advice, for more details on how to approach it, read this article from Martin Miles.
Composable Search solutions fill a real need in modern architectures and something you need to consider if XM Cloud is on your roadmap. This post wraps up my series on Making Sense of Sitecore’s Content Cloud. You can read the first post on content management options here, and the second post on Content Hub offerings here.