The Google Site Search Alternative You’ve Been Looking For

June 1st, 2017 - Posted by: in Design/UX

Google Site Search today:

Simply put, Google Site Search has been the go-to search bar option for businesses to include on their website. It is designed to create a highly customized, Google-hosted site search that brings all of the power and speed of Google.com to your website. If you’ve ever used the search bar at the top of a website to find what you are looking for, there’s a good chance it was Google Site Search.

In many ways, Google Site Search is a win/win solution. It helps web visitors find what they need, while increasing your business’ website conversion rate. Plus, it decreases operating costs by making it simple to leverage Google’s existing infrastructure for your search solution.

Google Site Search Example

The Problem:

On April 1, 2017, Google discontinued the sale and renewal of Google Site Search, meaning the product will be completely shut down by April 1, 2018. Once your contract with the paid site search expires, the custom search engine you see now will convert to a free custom search account, and it will show ads in the search results. This becomes a serious problem when web visitors search for solutions to their problem on your website, and the ads listed in the free custom search account direct them to a competitor’s website.

Simply removing the search bar from your website is not a viable option. Web visitors are accustomed to easily locating content by searching for specific words or phrases, without needing to understand or dig through website navigation. To simply remove any search bar option would negatively impact user experience, and increase your website bounce and exit rates.

The Solution:

Don’t sound the alarms just yet! After Google made this announcement, we quickly realized that we needed a solution for our own website, and our clients’, that would allow us to search across multiple domains, without the ads. For example, the SmartAcre website is hosted on WordPress, but our landing pages are hosted on our marketing automation platform, Pardot. Because of these multiple domains, we could not replace our Google Site Search with a WordPress search.

While investigating alternatives, I discovered that Google Custom Search has an API that allows you to use the existing Custom Search engine, while programmatically pulling search results that do NOT include ads. I also tested this method with the free version of custom search, and, it still did not show any ads!

It took a fair amount of digging, but I found the silver bullet to our problems. The Custom Search API is the optimal solution for us because it retains the ability to search across multiple domains, while maintaining the quality of Google’s search results. Best of all, we don’t have to worry about competitors ads being displayed in our search results.

How it Works:

Be forewarned, this part involves significant changes to the site search embed code that was previously used, and will require somebody with development knowledge to implement.

In order to use the Custom Search API, you must create a Google Cloud Platform project to generate an API key. This is also where you manage your billing in case you use more than 100 queries a day, so make sure you use a Google account that can support company billing when creating the project. Once you have an API key, you can use the REST JavaScript API to pull the search results. Check out this JavaScript example of how to invoke the API and loop through the results on your search results page.

Check out a live example of the final solution working with the search box on our 404 page.

Will this be supported?

Yes! We have confirmed with Google Cloud Platform support that the Custom Search JSON/Atom API will continue to be supported and that it is an acceptable Google Site Search replacement.

How much does it cost?

For CSE users, the API provides 100 search queries per day for free. If you need more, you can sign up for billing in the API Console. Additional requests cost $5 per 1000 queries, with up to 10k queries per day. The first 100 searches each day are free and signing up for the cloud platform gives you a free $300 credit. Even if you use more than 100 searches in a day, you will have to use up the free $300 credits before you are charged.

Implementing this awesome site search solution is just a small piece of the puzzle. Contact us to discuss how to level up your web strategy to boost your lead and demand generation efforts.

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