Google Site Search, Google Custom Search and their Alternatives
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In the spring of 2017, Google announced plans to shut down its highly rated Google Site Search tool, which was a paid-for tool that was offered by Google to webmasters that wanted to offer Google’s famous search technology to users of their own sites. For a fee, Google permitted webmasters to use Google’s search technology to allow users to easily find desired elements of their site with a query similar to what would be used in a Google search. The main benefit of using Google Site Search was that it allowed websites to offer this feature without adverting to searchers.
Did Google Offer a Replacement?
Google’s decision to end Google Site Search was met with sadness from many webmasters, especially as Google then proceeded to move all its customers to the free service: Custom Search engine. Google Custom Search works similarly to Google Site Search but shows site users advertising that webmasters have some control over (Custom Search Engine Help states they can earn money from them and can also prevent competitor adverts from showing). Google Custom Search offers full access to tech support even though it’s free, but a lot of the features were stripped back quite a bit (e.g., no image-only search option; there is no ability to transfer ownership of Google Custom Search account).
Can You Still Offer Site-Users an Ad-Free Search?
There were rumors that there would be no way to stop ads from showing on Custom Search Engine query results, but Google does make some exceptions. If your site is a non-profitable organization (for example, a school, charity, or government), you can offer Custom Search Engine for free without any advertising. Google also puts limits on the amount of and rate of queries that a user can search. These depend on the internal resources that are consumed by a query and are typically pretty high.
Pros and Cons of Custom Search Engine
Google Custom Search has benefits previously mentioned, but also offers the ability to customize the look of search results to match your website’s design. Google Custom Search can also search the entire web, which some view as a bonus, but some webmasters hate as it can confuse users. There is a daily limit on JSON API, which is a search tool that utilizes the JSON ability to store information in an organized manner that is easy to access. Google Custom Search JSON API offers 100 queries a day for free. If your users search on your site more than 100 times, you will need to pay $5 for every 1000 queries, but even this has a limit at 10,000 queries a day. You also do not have the ability to remove Google branding, which can affect the smooth feel of a website that otherwise seems to have rich and detailed original features that appear professional and convey an air of self-sufficiency. You don’t have much control over the ads that Custom Search shows, the exception being filtering out competitor ads. The ability to provide a custom search tool is also beneficial for your site’s SEO, and without it, your SEO will suffer. Read on for alternatives that can complement your SEO strategy or ask your SEO specialist which custom search would be right for your individual case.
Great Alternatives to Google Site Search
Algolia is a powerful engine that offers a robust API. It has good typo-tolerance, geo searchability, synonym search, language-agnostic processing, filters, advanced language processing and custom ranking. It also offers the ability of personalization. Algolia offers a free service for small personal projects, with an entry point for commercial developers starting at $29 a month. They also offer a free trial with no credit card required. Site Search 360 is another alternative that is proving to be popular. It sells itself as similar to Google Site Search but much more customizable. It also offers analytics, autocompleted suggests and semantic search with no coding experience necessary to insert it into your website. They offer a free plan that indexes 150 pages but only allows for 1000 queries a month. Their plans go up to $99, and this offers very flexible query limits or index limits.
Amazon is another company that has tried to swoop in on Google’s strategy pivot; they offer Amazon CloudSearch, which supports 34 languages and has a simple set-up. It allows you to upload data that you want to make searchable but does not crawl for you, so to upload all the data necessary, you need a developer who is willing to put in a lot of effort. Amazon does offer an attractive ‘pay for what you use’ pricing option, which bills you from $0.059 to $0.752 for each hour you need to offer search instances. Apache Solr is another great alternative – it doesn’t crawl for you, and you have to index it yourself (through JSON, SML, CSV, or even binary) but has advanced full-text search (e.g., allows for phrases, joins, grouping) and is optimized for high volume traffic. It is great if you need to scale and has many opportunities for plugins. Its features are incredibly extensive, and above all – it’s free. However, it does require a lot of technical ability (especially compared to Site Search 360) and also requires access to a Solr server, which can cost as little as $10 a month.
Relation to SEO
Site search engines have many benefits to the user, but can be quite complex to set up and run by yourself if you’re not an experienced webmaster. The SEO advantages are also beneficial, as with the right SEO expert, you can see where your competition is earning links and then try to earn those links on your own. This is quite an advanced SEO technique and works best as part of a more developed SEO strategy that involves original content that people want to consume.