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Improving Forum Search for PistonHeads - the UK’s Biggest Online Motoring Community

Leveraging Elasticsearch to deliver better search for 4.5 million forum users

pistonheads-haymarket_1.jpg“We brought Search Technologies in to help with a new, brilliant search.”

- Peter Dignan, Head of Architecture, Haymarket Media

Watch our Haymarket / Pistonheads customer success video to learn more


PistonHeads, the largest brand managed by Haymarket Media, is the UK’s biggest online motoring community with nearly 1,000,000 members and is known as the best place to keep up-to-date with the latest motoring news or to buy or sell a car.

Towards the end of 2014, Search Technologies was selected to implement the search on the PistonHeads’ forum site to improve the entire forum search to create a better user experience. 


  • Improve the speed of search

- Search results back within seconds

- Include new posts within 15 seconds of being posted

  • Allow moderators to search across hidden forums
  • Stop duplicate creation of forum topics
  • Drive up more accurate use of the forums and drive new topics 


PistonHeads struggled to keep up with the amount of information their members posted on the forum. Over the years, the online forum grew to over 200 different forum areas and inside that were 40 million posts across the forum with about 4.5 million members using it each month. They also get about 10,000 new posts every day, so there is a vast amount of useful information hosted on the forum. 

Since there was so much information, the database search solution was very slow and inaccurate. Hence, PistonHeads moved away from the database search and implemented Google search on the forum which was easy to set up, but it was a challenge to do any customisation. Also, for those who were members of various forums or hidden forums, it was nearly impossible to get the information they needed. Needless to say, it was not a great search experience for their members.   


pistonheads-forum-search.pngOn selecting Search Technologies, PistonHeads was able to create a new forum search and take all of the data across the forum and make sure it was up to date by implementing Elasticsearch as the new search engine. They set a time limit of 15 seconds between one member posting data and another member finding it. Users can search all of the posts, ‘search by user,’ ‘search by date,’ and/or specify which forums they want to search while making sure it aligns with each users’ permissions.


The forum search is working very well and PistonHeads has seen an increase search usage. This was previously very hard to measure because they were using Google search and couldn’t distinguish between actual Google search and search from an organic search engine. PistonHeads can now monitor member’s search journeys and how many pages they visit, and there has been much more engagement after implementing search since members are now finding what they want.