Y Combinator-Backed Swiftype Builds Site Search That Doesn’t Suck

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In my four-plus years covering tech, I don’t think I’ve ever met another blogger who was happy with the search feature on their website. The options range from terrible to functional, but it’s never good, and I’ve always found that it’s easier to just search via Google.

Apparently Matt Riley and Quin Hoxie saw the same problem when they were working at Scribd. So they left to build a better website search engine, one that they’re calling Swiftype. The startup was part of Y Combinator’s latest class of companies, and it’s launching today.

What makes Swiftype better? For starters, Riley and Hoxie say that unlike Google Site Search, it’s not just taking Google’s global web rankings and filtering them for one website. Instead, it builds (in Hoxie’s words) “a PageRank that’s specific to individual websites.” So it looks at the signals of importance on your website and prioritizes content accordingly. For example, if you link to anything from your front page, that’s a pretty big signal that it’s important to you and should be ranked highly.

On top of that, Swiftype also allows site owners to pin and unpin different items to the top of their search results. If you’re a news site, that might mean pinning the most popular and best articles, or it might mean promoting content that’s related to an ongoing sponsorship campaign. And Swiftype offers a set of tags that publishers can include in their pages to show which content should be surfaced in the results.

Other features include analytics data and auto-complete for people typing in their search.

Riley and Hoxie showed me the process of creating an engine for your site. You point Swiftype at the URL, and it crawls the site multiple times, refining the results as it goes. Then you can adjust the rankings to your liking, choose from a couple of different layouts, and finally grab some code to add to your site. (Among other things, Swiftype is supposedly easy to integrate with Tumblr — our own MG Siegler has added it to his blog ParisLemon.) In other words, there’s virtually no technical work required from the publisher — something else that distinguishes Swiftype from the various other search products and open source libraries out there. At same time, companies who want a little more control can access Swiftype through its APIs.

Swiftype has been working with a few beta customers, including Twilio, TwitchTV, Parse, Listia, and Fastly. These are technically sophisticated companies, so it’s not like they couldn’t build their own search features, but Riley says they realize it’s “not their core competency,” so they’re looking for something like Swiftype that’s “dead simple to use.”