Google Launches Custom Search for Site Owners

Vertical search was all the rage not two years ago, but seemed to fall by the wayside as a small number of generalized engines dominated an ever greater share of users’ search habits.

The biggest of those engines today signaled its belief in a future for specialized search while announcing plans to retain ownership of that traffic. Google’s Custom Search Engine (CSE) product will allow site owners to choose which Web sources to crawl and let them leverage their community of users to improve that index and results.

Marketers and other site owners can use the platform to launch specialized search engines focused on the areas of their expertise. Ads will be sold and served through AdSense for Search.

In a presentation in advance of the product’s release, Google executives demonstrated several instances of vertical search sites created during the program’s testing phase. These included a custom search interface for Intuit’s small business portal JumpUp.com and one for a climate science research group, at RealClimate.org.

The latter, because of its non-profit status, is not required to carry the AdSense ads that will enable Google to monetize the product. Universities and government organizations are also exempt from ads. All individuals and for-profit entities using the product, however, must accept the company’s trademark sponsored links, and will share in revenue generated by them. The revenue split is the same as that offered across the AdSense network.

Site owners wishing to build a search engine can submit a name, description and list of sites to be crawled for results on their engine-to-be. They then will receive a chunk of code they can use to add the specialized engine to their site.

Google executives called CSE one of the company’s most important product releases in Q4.

For marketers who buy keywords through AdSense, the vertical search product likely won’t bring short-term changes in the way their campaigns are planned or targeted. However, the product may improve results for organic search engine optimization, according to Kevin Lee, chairman of search marketing firm Did-It.

“What I’ve noticed in regards to relevance of ads versus organic is that the paid listings in some cases are becoming more relevant than the organic listings,” he said. “B-to-B versus B-to-C has always been a big challenge for all the search engines. When a person types in lumber, do they want one piece or 22 carloads?” For engines that succeed in building an audience, Google CSE could solve that problem.

Lee added it could also have implications for paid advertising, depending on the degree of targeting Google allows. “It’ll be interesting to see whether Google gives marketers the ability to tune their commercial messages against a highly focused search audience.”

The technology is similar to another customized search product, Rollyo, which launched a year ago; though there are differences between the two, according to Shashi Seth, lead product manager for Google Coop, the internal group that spawned the custom search product. Mainly, Google CSE is potentially collaborative, meaning site users can take part in creating and improving the engine. It also can be hosted on a Webmaster’s own site and doesn’t require users to navigate to a Google-owned domain. In addition, CSE is monetized with Google’s trademark sponsored links.

Other Google partners for the CSE platform include Macworld and business publisher Penton Media.

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