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Google Launches Custom Search Engine Service

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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, SEW correspondent Phil Bradley wrote about customized search offerings from Rollyo, PSI, Yahoo and in Your Search, Your Way (part one and part two).

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 could create a set of "subscribed links," a service that lets people choose other non-Google vertical search engines to show at the top of Google search result pages, if they want to.

Google also entered into more formal partnerships with other organizations asking them to annotate high quality web content in areas like health care and destination guides. Google called these annotations "labels," notably avoiding the word "tag," but the annotations really were 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 to 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. For more on Google Co-Op, see Google Co-Op : Add Your Own Vertical Search To Google.

Google's custom search engine

The new Google custom search engine builds on the foundation begun with Google Co-Op. "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 that Google Co-Op has proved enormously popular both with the 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 the enthusiasm for the program, participants complained about the somewhat complex, "developer centric" nature of the program. In making the 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 along side algorithmic search results.

Creating your own Google-flavored search

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

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

Once you've created your list of sites to search, test your new engine out 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 link to delete custom search engines you no longer want to use.

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

Some of the 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. For example, you can create refinements that specify words to automatically add to any query, 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 also manipulate the look and feel of the search box, to make it look integrated with the other design elements on your site.

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 page your search engine produces. If you have an AdWord account, you can simply turn this feature on; if you don't have an account, the wizard makes it easy to create one.

Seth pointed to two sites that have already built Custom Google Searches. Jumpup.com is a web site from Intuit, offering information targeted specifically for small business 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 ogf Google Custom Search.

So too the search offered by RealClimate, a consortium of scientists all over the world who comment on the credibility of articles related to climate change and global warming, to help non-scientists better understand the complex issues regarding this subject. "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 About page of the site.

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 the new service a try.


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