The Swiftype Blog / Month: December 2014

How Swiftype Improved Relevance for


Search is one thing, but powerful search is something different altogether., an online community for people to find and share do-it-yourself projects, realized this after struggling with Solr for years.

Instructables employees were frustrated by a search engine that returned very basic results for broad searches and failed to return results for misspelled or overly specific queries. Moreover, the Instructables staff had spent countless hours tracking and quantifying the quality of their user-generated content by popularity, tags, and other metadata, but their search remained a “black box” that only returned very simple text based results. Because search is the core navigational tool on the site, they needed a solution that would deliver “good” results that drew upon the rich metadata associated with each project.

To fix this problem and deliver better search results to their visitors, Instructables came to Swiftype. For the past three years, we have finely tuned our search algorithm to deliver outstanding search results out-of-the-box.

After implementing Swiftype and fine-tuning their relevance model to draw upon this metadata, Instructables saw a dramatic improvement in their search results for a wide range of queries. Now, users were seeing more popular and overall better projects. Let’s explore these improvements by looking at a number of query types and comparing their results from before and after implementing Swiftype.

  1. Overly generic searches. Swiftype improved results for broad searches by digging deeper into the metadata, weighting results based on a combination of project popularity, project title, individual step titles within the project description, and more. This combination surfaced results that the instructables staff knew were better projects, with more detailed instructions and higher user ratings, instead of simply populating a list of projects with the same title as the query.
  2. Overly specific searches. Before Swiftype, users who searched for specific projects, such as a “diy stethoscope,” would only see a handful of results for very exact matches. Now, users see a wider range of results and have more options to choose from.
    Swiftype helped Instructables surface more relevant content for queries that previously returned few or no results.
  3. Misspellings. Instead of only showing results for projects that include the same misspellings as the query, Swiftype’s algorithm automatically corrects these spellings by noticing if a similar query has significantly more results. Additionally, Swiftype’s search algorithm learns from the corpus of searchable text in Instructables’ index, making the spelling tolerance model specifically tailored for the query patterns of Instructables’ user base. This is particularly notable for an obscure query such as “Arduino,” which is not an English word but is nevertheless important and popular on

These several examples only scratch the surface of the many algorithmic improvements that Swiftype brings to site owners. On the modern web, users expect powerful search engines that draw deeply from website databases to deliver relevant results. To hear more about what Swiftype can do for you website, check out our solutions pages or contact our sales team today.

Blind Spots: How to Learn from “No Results” Pages

For site owners thinking about their internal search engines, the prospect of users seeing a “no results” page is a major fear. No results pages frustrate users and make them leave your site—if a site-wide search doesn’t populate results for their query, who can blame these users for assuming that this website doesn’t offer the content they are looking for?

From the perspective of the site owner, a “no results” page means one of two things: (i) either the website search engine is not powerful enough to find relevant content, or (ii) the website simply doesn’t have content for that query. In both cases, these no result queries reveal key blind spots that site owners need to look closely at to improve their user experience. Let’s look at these two possibilities in detail, suggesting what site owners can do to address these problems.

What are users searching for but not finding on your website?

Possibility #1. Your search engine can’t find relevant content. Modern web browsers are accustomed to powerful search on websites such as Google and Amazon, and they expect the same search experience across the web. However, most websites have weak search engines that are ill-prepared to handle anything beyond very basic, one-word query types. A high number of “no results” pages indicates that your site search engine is built on a relatively simple search algorithm, and it is worth questioning whether an improved site search solution would address this issue. Is your site search algorithm prepared to handle the following query variations?

    • basic misspellings
    • pluralization
    • prefic/suffix additions
    • missed spaces or punctuation
    • mutiple word phrases
    • synonyms

Possibility #2. Your website doesn’t have content for a particular query. An obvious reason that users might see a no results page would be that your website simply doesn’t have content to meet this users’ needs. You may be aware that users are hitting a no results page for a certain percentage of searches performed on your website, but have you spent the time honing in on exactly what these dead-end searches are? Analyzing user search behavior offers site owners unparalleled insight about user intent—by listening to exactly what users are searching for, you can iteratively improve your website to meet your audience’s needs.

An obvious response to a no results query is to create content to cover these blind spots, but this is only possible if your search system provides you with this information. When thinking about how to optimize your site search experience, be sure to think about harvesting the vast amounts of data that a site search bar produces. Consider the following examples of ways that a range of websites might leverage information on their no result queries to drive content development:

  • An ecommerce site realizes that users are searching for a particular product that is not currently offered. In response, site owners order a major shipment of this product and capitalize on demonstrated user interest.

  • A customer support team notices that users are searching for “change payment information” but seeing no results, forcing these users to write in time-consuming support tickets. To reduce these inbound tickets, a support team member writes a comprehensive article on payment information to satisfy user searches.

  • A news website launches with a focus on American political issues, but users are also searching for content on foreign affairs and finding no results.  To maintain site traffic, the company hires a foreign affairs writer to supply fresh content.

Aside from creating content to fill these blind spots, site owners should make targeted adjustments to search results for individual queries by adding in results that they think would be particularly helpful, or deleting results that might be irrelevant.

Because search is a such a natural entry point to a website’s content, it is essential that site owners take strategic steps to minimize “no results” pages and keep users on their sites. For specific information on how Swiftype can improve search on your website, visit our solutions page today.

Why Online Publishers Need Better Search

In the last few weeks, we’ve written about why ecommerce stores can’t afford to ignore site search, as well as why great self-service support centers need great search. Continuing our series, today we’re covering the reasons why online publishers need to invest in search to maximize their potential:

  1. Search helps visitors find content. This seems obvious, but returning relevant results for anything beyond very basic one-word queries requires a complex search and information retrieval algorithm -something most native search applications can’t provide. One example of this is phrase recognition. For example, if a visitor performs a search for “2016 presidential election,” basic search engines will return results based on how relevant articles are to the term “2016,” “presidential,” and “election” separately, rather than recognizing the three words as a single entity and prioritizing results to rank articles with all three terms higher.
  2. Strong search will keep visitors on your site. If readers enjoy your content, it is very likely that they will want to explore the archives to find more. If visitor searches yield irrelevant, or worse, no results, the key performance indicators content websites care most about, such as time on site, pages per visit, and exit rate, will suffer. Conversely, if searches yield highly relevant, engaging results, those same KPIs will improve. These improved KPIs will also dramatically increase your value proposition for advertisers.
  3. Search should allow users to refine their results. After performing an initial search, readers may want to refine their results based on topic, author, or publication date. By giving these readers this option, you empower them to hone in on exactly what they are looking for.
    Powerful search allows users to drill down and find the content they are looking for.
  4. Search analytics can drive content strategy. Search analytics give site owners a unique opportunity to directly listen to what users want from a website, but this data is often overlooked. By looking at top searches, publishers can get a better sense of what articles are popular and decide what to feature on their homepage. On the other hand, site owners can look at the top queries that returned no results to determine what content needs to be created.

Today, users expect relevant results for a wide range of query types. Powerful search will quickly satisfy visitors and keep them on your site, but weak search results will quickly frustrate users and cause them to look elsewhere for content. By investing in robust, high-quality search, publishers can not only delight their visitors with relevant content, but dramatically increase their site’s value.

For a detailed look at how publishers can benefit from great internal search, see how Dramafever saw a direct return on their investment in search.

The Online Shopping Migration: Thanksgiving Weekend Review

The continued rise in online shopping has had a tremendous impact on the traditional holiday shopping cycle. As the National Retail Federation reported Sunday afternoon, overall sales and shopping traffic from Thanksgiving weekend noticeably decreased from 2013, a trend that NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay attributes to “a strengthening economy that changes consumers’ reliance on deep discounts, a highly competitive environment, early promotions and the ability to shop 24/7 online.” The statistics clearly illustrate this consumer migration to online vs. in-store shopping, with online sales increasing by 32% on Thanksgiving day and 26% on Black Friday. Cyber Monday, famous primarily for online shopping, has also seen an 8.1% increase in online sales over 2013 as well.

Perhaps more interestingly, this shift to online shopping has fundamentally disrupted the cycle of Thanksgiving weekend shopping. As Business Insider explains, Black Friday first came into being because so many Americans were able to shop on their vacation day after Thanksgiving. Now, with the advent of online shopping, designating this Friday as the national holiday for shopping has become “pretty arbitrary.” Because online shopping sales on Black Friday are growing at a faster rate than Cyber Monday, Adobe Systems forecasts that next year Black Friday will surpass Cyber Monday as the top grossing day for online retail sales in the US (see graph below).

The growing importance of Black Friday for online retail sales.

Because shopping is shifting so heavily to online, and online shoppers are not bound by time or space, online retailers should expect a steady trickle of sales throughout the rest of the holiday season. This makes it all the more important for site owners to look closely at their data from the past weekend and optimize their website for conversions in the coming month. Among the data available, site owners should pay special attention to what users searched for on their site, especially those queries that returned no results. From there, the results for these dead end queries should be customized so users always find the products they are looking for.

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