ICF Uses SearchStax and Engagency to Drive Better Search

ICF Uses SearchStax and Engagency to Drive Better Search

In our latest Customer Case Study, see how ICF uses SearchStax and Engagency to drive better search and deliver what customers want while making it easier to upload and tag fresh content.

ICF’s Challenge

ICF is a global consulting and digital services provider with more than 7,000 professionals spread across more than 70 countries focused on making big things possible for their clients. Headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia, ICF works with hundreds of companies and governments around the world to plan, design, and implement transformative projects.

The company relies heavily on content marketing to reach and educate their customers. ICF shares reports, blogs, whitepapers, and other informational content on their website, along with press releases, event information, and more. To say their website is rich with content would be an understatement. 

Formerly, uploading new content meant not only creating and publishing that content, but also tagging it with the appropriate industry, topic, and location verticals. Then, the team had to manually add each piece of content to each area of the site they wanted it to appear, which could total in the dozens. The process was arduous and inefficient.

ICF previously relied on Apache Lucene for their site search, and wanted to make the switch to Apache Solr. This move was driven partly by the advanced capabilities of Solr, as well as to further the marketing team’s core goal for the year which was to scale up content creation.

ICF Uses SearchStax and Engagency to Upgrade Website and Search Functionality

ICF needed to drastically upgrade their search functionality, and required a forward-looking site design to match. ICF selected two Austin, Texas-based firms for their project — Slide UX to design the various search experiences, and Engagency, a SearchStax Solution Partner, to manage the Sitecore development.

Engagency completed a Sitecore upgrade and migration to Solr-as-a-Service with SearchStax. Leveraging Slide UX’s designs, Engagency then architected and implemented various search experiences that were interactive, cutting-edge, and personalized for each visitor.

“From the moment we met, it was very clear that Engagency had a solid ethos for how they developed web applications. They had a real discipline around how they built and tested things. That was a great signal from the start that they would be a strong partner.”
ICF VP of Digital & Performance Marketing

Highlights of the new search experience, powered by SearchStax Solr-as-a-Service, include the following.

Faceted Search Powers the Insights Resources Section 

The Insights section of the ICF.com website serves as an integrated resource hub, featuring blog articles and thought leadership. Here, visitors can search the full universe of articles on ICF.com. The ICF content team uses a custom taxonomy to organize these articles on a number of different topics, content tags, and channels.


ICF SearchStax Case Study - Insights
Engagency developed a custom module using Solr that allowed ICF to select a set of filters, allowing dynamic views of these articles to display anywhere on the site.


ICF SearchStax Case Study - Top Level Search
Additional search filters and topic tags appear at the top of the navigation for each topic category. This invites visitors to explore related content


ICF SearchStax Case Study - Search Facets
Visitors can also apply filters to search by different types of content


Before, the ICF team had to manually update an article everywhere it needed to appear on the website, a process that consumed valuable time and morale and significantly limited their ability to publish fresh content on the site. Now, they can instantly embed the appropriate articles anywhere on the site just by adding a tag. The process is completely automated leveraging SearchStax Solr-as-a-Service, streamlining their content flow and recouping time that could be better devoted to higher-level tasks.

Unique Search Experiences Provide Options for Users

The ICF Careers portal also uses Solr search powered by SearchStax. When visitors land on the page, they are presented with a variety of search options. They can use text-based search for keyword and location, as well as faceted search to filter by posting date and field. The end result is a full search UI based on Solr.



ICF SearchStax Case Study - Careers Page
Users can access the search bar or take advantage of faceted search when looking for job openings

The News and Events sections of ICF.com feature a dynamic search that functions similarly to the Insights section, but with a different design and faceted search options appropriate to those experiences. These unique search experiences feel customized to the user’s journey, inviting them to engage and explore.




ICF News Section Uses Different Dynamic Search Options
The ICF News Section uses different dynamic search options

As a whole, ICF.com showcases search at its finest. SearchStax enabled Engagency to rapidly iterate and generate new functionality very quickly. Once implemented, the ICF team can easily use these features without ever needing to think about the backend. Solr makes everything very easy to do.

Platinum Support Facilitates Lucene to Solr Transition 

The SearchStax Platinum Support team was also an important partner for Engagency in the process of transitioning ICF.com’s search implementation from Lucene to Solr. Due to the complexities of such an upgrade, there were a few hiccups along the way. The SearchStax team was there and ready to dive in instantly.

“Through their support portal, we could say ‘Hey, SearchStax, something’s going wrong.’ Within minutes they would respond, figure out the problem, and remediate it. They even sent us a full post mortem PDF with the graphs of what was going wrong and which calls were problematic, so we could fix the code. It was incredible and helped us completely solve the problem.”

Jeremy Clifton, Senior Sitecore Developer at Engagency

The Platinum Support package by SearchStax proved invaluable for ensuring a seamless transition and fast troubleshooting. Jason Perry, President & CEO, Engagency said, “If you’re building a site that leverages search as much as ICF.com does, we’d recommend taking advantage of SearchStax Platinum Support. It gives you the peace of mind that you’re going to be able to rely on them when you need them.”

ICF’s Results

The search capabilities of Solr, provided by SearchStax Solr-as-a-Service, exceeded expectations in terms of efficiency, functionality, and performance.

Engagency was able spin up a Solr search index in no time and create the functionality ICF desired. “Since SearchStax is so highly performant, we know that we’ve sized out the environment accurately and we know that it is going to continue to perform very well in the future,” shared Matthew FitzGerald-Chamberlain, Senior Sitecore Developer, Engagency. 

The ICF team has been able to significantly scale up their content creation, and the search capabilities largely contributed to that. With SearchStax, they can quickly and dynamically pull in content across their site, whereas before it would have been a manual and painstaking process.

“It’s not just about a user typing in a query; it’s also Solr’s faceting and filtering capabilities that make the experience so powerful for their users, and efficient for their internal team. Being able to do the filtering has been hugely beneficial for scaling up their content creation.”

Jason Perry, President & CEO, Engagency