Google Launches Custom Search Engine Service

  |  November 1, 2006   |  Comments

Site owner and bloggers can now roll their own Google search engine.

Want your own Google-flavored specialized search engine for your Web site or blog? With Google's new Custom Search Engine service, it takes just minutes to set up your own unique search engine.

Google is joining Yahoo, Eurekster, and many others in offering a customized search platform that makes it easy for anyone to offer a highly tailored search engine. Several weeks ago, Phil Bradley wrote about customized search offerings from Rollyo, PSI, Eurekster, and Yahoo on ClickZ's sister site, Search Engine Watch.

Google's new service is an outgrowth of the Google Co-Op program started earlier this year, according to Ramanathan Guha, lead engineer for Google Co-Op. Co-Op was designed to allow users to influence search results in a couple of different ways.

First, anyone who wants to can create a set of "subscribed links," a service that lets people choose non-Google vertical search engines to show at the top of Google SERPs (define).

Google also entered into more formal partnerships with other organizations asking them to annotate high-quality Web content in areas such as healthcare and destination guides. Google called these annotations "labels," notably avoiding the word "tag," but the annotations are really just another form of meta data.

When users searched on these topics, Google altered its results in two ways. At the top of a result page, "topic links" were used as query refinement suggestions to help people narrow a query. In addition, pages annotated by the expert partners were shown in results with the tags and the name of the organization that annotated the content displayed, adding another level of authority to a result.

Google's Custom Search Engine

The new Google custom search engine builds on Google Co-Op's foundation. "We are trying to shore up our algorithms with the wisdom of the crowds. We know we are not always the expert in every topic in every domain," said Shashi Seth, product lead for the new Custom Search Engine service.

Seth says Google Co-Op has proven enormously popular both with organizations annotating content and with users. In the health area alone, Google now has over 35 large partners who have contributed "tens of millions" of annotations, according to Seth.

Despite their enthusiasm for the program, participants complained about the somewhat complex, "developer-centric" nature of the program. In making features easier to use, Google decided to expand, allowing anyone to create a highly specialized search tool and potentially make money by displaying Google ads alongside algorithmic search results.

Creating Your Own Google-Flavored Search

It's easy to create your own Custom Google Search. Google offers a wizard that leads you through the process in a few simple steps. Visit google.com/coop/cse to get started with the wizard, for FAQ files, and for other information about the service.

First, you must specify sites you want to include or exclude from your search engine. You can also prioritize sites, giving some more prominence than others.

Once you've created a list of sites to search, test your new engine and preview search results. If you like what you see, simply cut and paste a few lines of code on your Web site or blog.

If you're not satisfied or want to do further tweaking, Google lets you do quite a bit more customization from the "My search engines" page. This page lists all of the custom search engines you've created, with links to each one's home page and control panel. There are also links to delete custom search engines you no longer want to use.

The control panel offers numerous options for tweaking a search engine. These options are grouped into a menu, including basics, sites, refinements, look and feel, code, collaboration, make money, advanced, and preview.

Some features give you a lot of control over your search engine to a degree not often found in other custom search engine sites unless you have the technical chops to sling code. You can create refinements that specify words to automatically add to any query, for example, helping users narrow the focus of results without additional work on their part. You can also use the full range of Google's Boolean and advanced search operators in these refinements.

You can even manipulate the look and feel of the search box to make it appear integrated with your site's other design elements.

If you like the idea of social search, you can invite others to participate by tagging or annotating content for your custom search. You can also try to monetize your efforts by including Google AdWords on the result pages your search engine produces. If you have an AdWord account, you can simply turn this feature on; if you don't have one, the wizard makes it easy to create one.

Seth points to two sites that have already built Custom Google Searches. JumpUp from Intuit offers information targeted specifically to small businesses to help them get up and running quickly. The site offers information, tools, and community interaction with other business users; the search box at the upper right of each page of the site is an example of Google Custom Search.

So, too, is the search offered by RealClimate, a global consortium of scientists who comment on the credibility of articles related to climate change and global warming to help non-scientists better understand these complex issues. "We aim to provide a quick response to developing stories and provide the context sometimes missing in mainstream commentary. The discussion here is restricted to scientific topics and will not get involved in any political or economic implications of the science," according to the site's "About" page.

Google's Custom Search Engine service is nicely done and makes it easy to create your own specialized search engine. If you've got a Web site or blog and would like to add focused search to your site, it's worth giving this new service a try.

Vote for your favorite product or campaign for the 2006 ClickZ Marketing Excellence Awards, October 30 through close of business (5 pm EST) on November 8. Winners will be announced on November 13.

Meet Chris at Search Engine Strategies in Paris, November 28-29, at Cnit Paris La Defense.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chris Sherman

In addition to being Associate Editor of ClickZ's sister publication, SearchDay.com, Chris Sherman is a frequent contributor to Online Magazine, EContent, Information Today and other information industry journals. He's written several books, including The McGraw-Hill CD ROM Handbook and The Invisible Web: Uncovering Information Sources Search Engines Can't See, co-authored with Gary Price. Chris has written about search and search engines since 1994, when he developed online searching tutorials for several clients. From 1998 to 2001, he was About.com's Web Search Guide.

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