Guide to Shortlisting and Evaluating Search Technology Vendors

A comprehensive framework for selecting the right search technology solution

If your organization has recognized the need to implement advanced search technologies on your website or e-commerce platform, the process of identifying and evaluating the right solution can be overwhelming. With well over 100 vendors offering a wide range of search capabilities, features, and pricing models, it’s crucial to approach the selection process with a clear strategy and well-defined criteria.

The challenge lies in effectively navigating this crowded market to shortlist the most suitable vendors for in-depth evaluation, ensuring that the chosen technology aligns with your organization’s unique requirements, goals, and constraints. Without a structured approach, you risk investing time and resources in evaluating solutions that may not meet your needs or deliver the expected business impact.

To assist organizations like yours, we’ve created this guide to help you shortlist and evaluate search technology vendors effectively. This comprehensive framework will enable you to make informed decisions that drive long-term value for your business. By following the steps outlined and referencing our “Guide on Modern Web and Commerce Search Capabilities” along with a vendor matrix linking to detailed vendor profiles, you’ll be able to:

  1. Clearly define your search requirements and objectives.
  2. Identify the key capabilities and features that matter most for your organization.
  3. Develop a vendor shortlist based on your specific criteria.
  4. Conduct a thorough evaluation of shortlisted vendors, including demos, trials, and reference checks.
  5. Make a confident decision that aligns with your budget, timeline, and strategic goals.

Whether you’re looking to enhance the user experience, improve conversion rates, or drive operational efficiency, selecting the right search technology is a critical step in your digital transformation journey. By investing time upfront to carefully evaluate and select a vendor that meets your unique needs, you’ll be well-positioned to unlock the full potential of advanced search capabilities and drive measurable business results.

Step 1: Define Your Search Requirements

Before beginning your vendor search, clearly define your business’s search requirements. Consider factors such as:

  1. Current Search Pain Points: Determine specific issues with your existing search functionality.
  2. Specific Features and Capabilities Needed: Consider essential features such as natural language processing, personalization, and voice search.
  3. Integration Requirements: Ensure compatibility with your existing systems and platforms.
  4. Scalability and Performance Needs: Evaluate requirements based on current and projected site traffic and data volume.
  5. Budget and Resource Constraints: Establish a budget and identify available resources for implementation and maintenance.
  6. Future Requirements: Ensure the vendor can accommodate your long-term growth and evolving needs.
  7. Involving Key Stakeholders: Engage stakeholders from various departments to get a comprehensive view of requirements and ensure buy-in.
  8. Prioritizing Your Requirements: Rank requirements based on their impact and urgency.
  9. Defining Success Criteria: Establish measurable success criteria for each requirement to assess vendor performance objectively.

Step 2: Conduct Initial Research

Perform initial research to identify search technology vendors that potentially meet your requirements. Sources for this research may include:

  1. Consult Industry Reports and Analyst Recommendations: Look at reports from sources like Gartner, Forrester, and IDC Research.
  2. Read Online Reviews and Customer Testimonials: Check reviews on platforms like G2, Capterra, and Trustpilot.
  3. Review Vendor Websites and Marketing Materials: Gather detailed information on vendor offerings.
  4. Seek Recommendations from Industry Peers or Partners: Get advice from colleagues or industry groups.
  5. Utilize DX Insider Resources: Use the DX Insider guide, vendor matrix, profiles, and our vendor deep dives (contact us for information on access to vendor deep dives) to gain insights and identify potential vendors.

Step 3: Create a Vendor Shortlist

Based on your initial research, create a shortlist of 3-5 vendors that appear to best align with your requirements.  To narrow down your list, consider factors such as:

  1. Feature Alignment: Ensure the vendors offer the features you need.
  2. Proven Track Record: Look for vendors with success in your industry or similar businesses.
  3. Customer Feedback: Check for consistent positive feedback.
  4. Vendor Stability: Evaluate the vendor’s longevity and market reputation.
  5. Pricing Models: Ensure their pricing structure aligns with your budget.
  6. Partner Ecosystem: Assess the vendor’s partner ecosystem and integrations with other technologies.
  7. Geographic Presence: Ensure the vendor can support your business in all regions.
  8. Commitment to Innovation: Check the vendor’s track record of introducing new features.

Step 4: Request Proposals, Demos, and Trials

Reach out to the vendors on your shortlist to request product demos, trials, or for complex search requirements a proof-of-concept (POC) project. This hands-on experience will give you a better understanding of each vendor’s capabilities and user experience.

  1. Provide Structured Proposals: Give vendors a structured template for proposals to ensure consistency and ease of comparison.
  2. Set Up a Scoring System: Rate each vendor objectively based on your evaluation criteria.
  3. Involve Diverse Users: Engage a diverse group of end-users in demos and trials to get a balanced perspective.
  4. Test Robustness: Evaluate edge cases, error handling, and performance under load.
  5. Assess Key Factors During Demos and Trials:
  • Ease of use and intuitiveness
  • Relevance and accuracy of search results
  • Speed and performance
  • Effectiveness of personalization and recommendations
  • Flexibility and customization options
  • Quality of analytics and reporting features

Step 5: Evaluate the Vendor’s Implementation Partner Ecosystem

For larger, complex search technology implementations, you will likely require an implementation partner. Include an evaluation of the vendor’s implementation partner ecosystem as part of your overall vendor assessment.

  1. Examine Partner Network: Look for vendors with a diverse range of implementation partners.
  2. Assess Certification and Training: Evaluate the vendor’s investment in partner enablement.
  3. Review Partner Experience: Check the experience and success record of key implementation partners.
  4. Request Case Studies and References: Validate expertise and results through case studies and references.
  5. Consider Geographic Coverage: Ensure partners have local expertise in all regions you operate.
  6. Look for Specializations: Find partners with specific specializations or value-added services.
  7. Understand Engagement Models: Clarify roles, responsibilities, and communication channels.
  8. Evaluate Innovation Contributions: Assess the partners’ contributions to innovation and thought leadership.
  9. Assess Cultural Fit: Ensure a good cultural fit between your organization and the implementation partner.
  10. Review Pricing and Terms: Understand the pricing models and contract terms offered by the partners.

Step 6: Check References

Before making a final decision, request references from each vendor’s existing customers, particularly those in industries similar to yours. Speak with these references to gain insights into their experiences with the vendor and the search technology, including:

  1. Learn About Implementation Process: Understand their implementation experience.
  2. Assess Ease of Use: Evaluate how quickly users adapted to the new system.
  3. Inquire About Business Impact: Ask about improvements in conversion rates and user engagement.
  4. Check Customer Support Quality: Ensure reliable support experiences.
  5. Gauge Overall Satisfaction: Determine overall customer happiness and likelihood to recommend.

Step 7: Make a Final Decision

Based on your evaluation of vendor fit, reference checks, and overall assessment, select the search technology vendor that best meets your organization’s needs. Involve key stakeholders from various departments in the decision-making process to ensure broad support and successful adoption.

Step 8: Plan for Implementation and Optimization

Once you have selected a vendor, work closely with their team to plan for implementation and ongoing optimization. This may include:

  1. Define Project Scope and Timelines: Set clear goals and deadlines.
  2. Assign Internal Resources: Allocate roles and responsibilities for the implementation.
  3. Develop a Data Migration Plan: Ensure seamless integration with existing systems.
  4. Establish KPIs and Success Metrics: Define success metrics and benchmarks.
  5. Create a Training and Adoption Plan: Ensure end-users are well-prepared to use the new system.
  6. Schedule Regular Check-Ins: Plan regular performance reviews with the vendor.

Evaluation insights from industry insiders

Here are some additional insights for evaluating search technology solutions shared to us by industry insiders.

Poor Search ≠ Lack of Demand

“Companies often look at their existing search traffic and de-prioritize search and discovery investment. When what is actually happening is that their shoppers are not using their search function because it doesn’t work well.”

Rachel Tonner, VP of Global Marketing at Klevu,

Don’t overlook professional search expertise

Many companies think they can buy a search engine and set it up on their own. Or leverage LLMs and build their own generative solutions. But they overlook the depth and expertise needed in search relevancy and ranking, connectivity, security, AI analytics, UI variety, and the ability to do this at scale to support enterprise-wide deployments – internally and externally. Not to mention the ability to avoid technical debt and provide best-of-breed capabilities ongoing and into the future, as tech innovations are accelerating.”

Juanita Olguin, Sr. Director Product Marketing, Coveo

Invest in solutions that are flexible and composable

“Businesses should look to invest in solutions that are flexible and composable in nature technology that is best-of-breed with a track record for innovation and proven business results. Companies looking to transform their overall digital experiences should invest in search technologies that are modern, cloud-based, API-forward, and easy-to-use while also customizable to work with existing systems and applications in place. Transparency in AI, out-of-the-box models and robust reporting will also help companies continuously tune and improve experiences.”

Juanita Olguin, Sr. Director Product Marketing, Coveo

Search is not a set and forget solution

“We find two challenges talking to customers about investing in a search experience. First the tendency to view search as a set and forget commodity and not consider ease of use/learning curve aspects when evaluating products.

Samantha Gilbert, Product Manager at Squiz

Look to solutions that can flag and fix content and data quality issues

Second is the importance of content/data quality on search outcomes, likely to be even more important as AI takes hold, and therefore support the product has for countering/flagging the need to fix poor content/data.”

Samantha Gilbert, Product Manager at Squiz

Search alone is not enough

“Organizations often overlook how Search is just one (important) piece of the puzzle of their digital experience; not evaluating how a technology will collaborate with the rest of their existing or future ecosystem can be a big mistake. Having advanced Search technology is key, but so is having a solid content management solution, analytics capabilities, and connectors to bring your data to life.”

Daniel Baigel, Product Manager, Yext

Final thoughts

By following this structured approach to evaluating search technology vendors, you can make informed decisions that align with your unique requirements and goals. Selecting the right vendor is crucial for leveraging the full potential of advanced search capabilities and driving long-term success. With a clear strategy and criteria, you can confidently navigate the market.

This guide outlines a straightforward approach to defining your requirements, researching vendors, creating a shortlist, and evaluating solutions. By following these steps and using our “Guide on Modern Web and Commerce Search Capabilities,” you can make an informed decision.

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