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Insights / Technology

Searchperience: advantages and synergies using the example of the Heathrow Airport website

June 08, 2020
About the author Daniel HallerDaniel Haller
Product Owner

Using the example of Heathrow Airport's website relaunch, we show how synergies in content management and E-Commerce can be optimally exploited with the right technology: by combining the Search and Recommendation Engine Searchperience with Adobe Experience Manager and the Omnichannel Multi-Merchant Marketplace OM³.

As an integral foundation for customer experience and usability, search is a crucial function of an airport website. For the relaunch of, Heathrow Airport therefore had a number of specific requirements for the search solution that exceeded the functions of the planned CMS solution. The Heathrow Boutique, the airport's E-Commerce platform, has been successfully using the Searchperience Enterprise Search developed by AOE for years. It also represents the optimal search solution for the airport website: It can be flexibly and seamlessly integrated into a wide variety of systems such as CMS or E-Commerce systems, thus enabling the efficient use of synergies.

The challenge: Diverse demands on the search

Everybody who deals with usability and conversion rates of websites knows that a sophisticated search function has to fulfill much more than auto-completion. The requirements of Heathrow Airport are also extensive:

  • Flight search: This is one of the most important applications of the website. In the simple version, it displays arrivals and departures, in the complex version it displays connecting flights. The prerequisite for this is that flight data must first be provided by an external airport system and imported into the search index.
  • Directories for shops and restaurants Almost 100 shops and more than 30 restaurants in 4 terminals – a user-friendly search must allow flexible filters to make possible specific requests such as searching for a vegetarian-kosher breakfast restaurant in Terminal 2. At the same time, it must be possible for editors to configure the filters and values in the CMS easily and with little effort.
  • Product teaser: In order to draw the attention of air travelers to the offers of the airport's E-Commerce platform, the website is to display bestselling products from the Heathrow Boutique. To ensure that product data, images and prices are consistent and up-to-date, access to the same product database is required.
  • Free text search: Another relevant feature is a high-performance, fast and freely configurable free text search with auto-completion, which can store and deliver different platforms, such as the company blog, the E-Commerce platform and the company website, centrally in an index.

The fact that AOE Searchperience fulfills these and other requirements makes it clear: the solution is more than just a "search slot", rather it represents a powerful tool for storing, processing, classifying according to customer specifications, enriching and outputting information of any kind in any format.

Utilizing cross-platform synergies

An important argument for choosing Searchperience as a search solution was synergy effects. Heathrow has been successfully using Searchperience since 2018 for its E-Commerce platform "Heathrow Boutique", where search and categorization play a central role in providing data and attributes for over 50,000 products from several dozen retailers. The necessary hosting infrastructure is fully cloud-based, and the same Searchperience instance can be easily integrated from different platforms. This greatly simplified and accelerated the initial deployment, resulting in a fully functional instance within days of project start, which then went into production within a few sprints.

A number of advantages result from this architecture:

  • License costs: Since, in this case, several platforms share one Searchperience instance, the license costs are only incurred once and can be distributed internally across various cost centers.
  • Hosting: A common hosting platform minimizes maintenance costs and ensures uniformly patched systems. At the same time, the cloud-based architecture allows fast up- and downscaling during peak loads, e.g. before Christmas, during the holiday season, on Black Friday or during attacks.
  • Common Index: Since all data is stored in a central index, it can be accessed across platforms if required. Thus, the CMS can also display products from the shop, forward traffic and increase its conversion.
  • Project specific endpoints/architecture: The outwardly exposed components and endpoints can differ considerably in functionality and structure – in practice, every project is different, which is why, in Searchperience, endpoints can be developed individually according to the respective requirements.
  • Shared components: A variety of functionalities may look and integrate differently on different platforms, but internally, the same component is always responsible. The best example of this is flight search, which is used on three different platforms in different contexts, and for which there is only one internal component in Searchperience. This component serves all three platforms with specific endpoints.
Steven Bailey

Steven Bailey

Chief Strategy Officer / AOE
As a powerful partner of Heathrow Airport, we are pleased to be able to significantly increase future revenues through the use of Searchperience: Our flexible search solution now offers personalized search results on the website and thus makes optimum use of cross-functional synergies."

Easy to maintain and use: Integration of Searchperience and Adobe Experience Manager

One of the biggest challenges of the project: a modular, high-performance and architecturally clean integration of CMS and Searchperience, so that site users are offered a seamless user experience and editors can easily edit content in one system. How can these complex, non-functional requirements be met with Searchperience?

Technically speaking, AOE's search solution provides different types of content or documents as results. The basis for this are attributes by which search results can be narrowed or filtered ("show all vegetarian-kosher breakfast restaurants in Terminal 2"). This concept is also used for the relaunch of Content types here include flights, products, restaurants, shops, events, news, blog posts or even just normal content pages with different attributes (e.g. opening hours for shops or the departure and destination airports of a flight).

The advantage: CMS editors do not have to leave Adobe Experience Manager to create and maintain these complex attribute sets, but can do so directly in their familiar environment.

Data exchange between Searchperience and Adobe Experience Manager

External sources can push data into the Searchperience index, or Searchperience, like any search engine, can crawl data directly from the web pages. In order for the crawler to cleanly recognize the specified attributes of the content types and transfer them to the index, they must be available in structured form. For this purpose, the Experience Manager provides editors with special forms in which opening hours, terminal location, payment options, etc. can be entered. This microdata is later output, crawled and processed in the frontend in structured form (as JSON-LD). The attributes themselves were taken over from, a project initiated by Google, among others, which structures such data. specifies structured microdata or attributes for hundreds of entities. The schema is not only understood by Searchperience, but also by several search engines, which by the way is an excellent SEO measure. For restaurants, for example, dozens of attributes can be specified: PaymentAccepted, PriceRange, SmokingAllowed, OpeningHours, etc.

These attributes can be retrieved later using specific endpoints and parameters. In this way, directories or lists can be searched and filtered. The values that are available for selection are not stored statically, but can be defined by editors in the Experience Manager. They are aggregated before output, which means that a new restaurant category can be added dynamically, for example.

100% design freedom in the front end

One and the same Searchperience instance is used for different platforms, which of course have different requirements regarding the format of the search results.  Search results can be output in various formats: XML, JSON, HTML, etc. This gives developers either maximum freedom (JSON) or, if a campaign needs to move quickly, minimum integration effort (HTML).

Seamless integration, but clear interfaces during implementation

Large projects are rarely implemented by only one service provider. Normally, as in this project, several providers work together, which makes it important to have a clear delineation of tasks, responsibilities and systems.

Based on the system architecture, the interfaces between Adobe Experience Manager and Searchperience are clearly defined. Inputs and outputs are easily traceable through the microdata or JSON-LD objects and the dedicated endpoints and can very easily be tested separately. The search index itself is not a black box (like Google), but can be viewed (and managed) via an admin interface. Detailed API-based documentation makes integration much easier for an (Adobe) partner.

The integration of Heathrow's E-Commerce platform

One of the aims of the relaunch: the Heathrow Boutique was to benefit from the enormous volume of visitors to the airport website. With Adobe Experience Manager (website) and AOE's platform solution OM³ (shop), the pages are based on completely different systems. Because Searchperience consolidates content from different sources into a common index and delivers it through a common API, products from OM³ can be displayed in Adobe Experience Manager. For example, an electronics retailer can teaser its noise cancelling headphones from the web store directly on the airport website, and the web store can teaser its noise cancelling headphones from the airport website.

Adobe, Searchperience and OM³: Tag team with potential

The website relaunch required the integration of multiple systems, and Searchperience, like OM³, has found that it can work flexibly, elegantly, and seamlessly with Adobe Experience Manager to extend its content management capabilities. This is much more than just a free text search: Searchperience can replace a classic database-supported application, offering more flexibility and much higher performance.

Heathrow benefits from AOE's experienced and well-establilshed teams, with years of experience in their respective products. The budget was precisely adhered to in this project and the originally planned completion date was reduced by several weeks.

Meanwhile, visitors can look forward to a frontend that is unaffected by the complexity and offers an outstanding user experience.