Onsite search is more important than ever before. Sadly, Magento's baked-in search is horrible (even many hosted carts fall short in this department) so if you want all the benefits of having a smart conversion-optimized search, you need another solution. Many people often get stuck is whether to go with an open source solution, like SOLR, or a Software as a Service (SaaS) solution for their Magento site search.
Let’s start with a breakdown of SOLR. SOLR is an open source full text search solution from Apache. Since it's open source, you have access to all the code that SOLR is built on and have the ability to customize it as you see fit to meet your exact needs. This sounds like a pretty good deal until you get into the nitty-gritty.
While the customizations in SOLR are endless, most budgets are not. Setting up SOLR requires a significant amount of overhead and ongoing maintenance from skilled developers in order to get the most out of it. Coding the search to work “intelligently” can require a significant amount of development time to work out the right logic for your site. There are several SOLR plugins for Magento to make the initial installation easier, but in 95% of cases, custom development is still needed.
Enter SaaS solutions like Nextopia. With a solution like Nextopia, the heavy lifting has been done and all customizations can be made easily through a control panel or via their support team. Customizations can include reordering the search results to promote special items, adding promotional banners to the search results, turning on new search refinements, creating synonym rules for misspellings, and so on. With SOLR, your development team would have to make these changes at a cost. With Nextopia or other SaaS options, it’s a simple matter of logging into the control panel and making changes yourself with no programming knowledge needed.
Then there’s the implementation of the two solutions. As mentioned above, SOLR will require experienced developers to program and implement, but with Nextopia, they do all the heavy lifting for you. When it comes time to install the software, your developer will just need to install the Magento extension and do some basic configuration.
With SaaS, all of the infrastructure is powered by the provider so you also won’t need a powerful server. For SOLR to provide optimal speed it requires a dedicated server that will have to be continuously maintained.
Search is extremely important, and offering best-practice search abilities on your website can have an extreme benefit on conversion rates. If you have a significant budget and a team of expert programmers, then SOLR could be the solution for you because it is ultimately owned by you and has infinite customization options. For everyone else, you might find an SaaS like Nextopia can offer you that and it can do it quickly and affordably.