Google Custom Search Business Edition: Back to Reality

By Deane Barker on December 29, 2007

A few months ago, Google released Google Custom Search Business Edition, which is a way to use Google as the search engine on your own site, while having more control over the search results page. When we posted on it a couple months ago, I said this:

This will cannibalize sales of their Google Mini, since it’s the same functionality at a fraction of the cost […]

Well, I was wrong. I assumed it was “hosted Google Mini.” It’s not. At all.

We implemented Google Custom Search Business Edition for a client, and I’ve come to understand that I had completely unrealistic expectations for it. We’ve done two Google Mini implementations, and been more or less thrilled with that. But this product isn’t the same thing at all.

First, you don’t get your own search index. You use a subset of the public Google index of your site, just as if you appended “site:mydomain.com” to your search term. This means that you’re at the mercy of Google to index your site and remove old pages from your index. New content won’t appear in your site’s search right away, and old content will stay for some time before it disappears.

Second, since you’re the public index, there’s no way to bias search results. You end up doing SEO on your own site to get the search results to come out how you want. If someone searches your own site for one of your products, you need to fiddle with the page content to make sure it comes up at the top of the results. Since Google has famously ignored META for years, you have no way to influence the search results beyond standard SEO.

This can be a frustrating thing since — as we mentioned — you’re at the mercy of Google to re-index and re-score your site at its leisure. If your site’s search isn’t coming out how you want, you need to fiddle with your content, then wait a few days or weeks for Google to re-index.

Third, you get just a subset of Google Mini functionality. For instance, you can’t get META tag values back for search results. You can’t search META either, for that matter, using “inmeta:” or “requiredfields” or any of the other really spiffy tools you get with the Mini.

Again, it needs to be said that I had unrealistic expectations for the product. Google never claimed this was a “hosted Google Mini” — that was my assumption, which sadly turned out wrong.

That said, Google Custom Search is still a handy way to get Google results on your own site. You get XML access to the search results, which means you can (and we did), swap your own site search for Google results without your end users ever knowing about it.

Additionally, you get spelling suggestions, which is huge. In the three cases now where we’ve turned to Google for client’s site search, the driving force has always been “our users expect spellcheck because they can’t spell a damn thing…” Google has spoiled the world with spellcheck, and now it’s completely expected.

So, lesson learned for us. If you want “hosted Google Mini,” there are scads of options for that. Google Custom Search isn’t the same thing.

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