Are your users finding what they need on your website?

Enter site search. It’s a great feature for medium to large websites with a lot of content. It’s the solution for users that don’t want to hunt for answers on your website—by allowing them to skip the act of learning your site navigation to find out whether or not you have the item or information that interests them.

Using Google Custom Search to provide a better user experience

Does your website have a search function? Are you happy with the way it works? If you answered “no” to either of these questions, it’s worth having a good look at a Google Custom Search engine. With Google site search, your website can take advantage of Google search technology to help your users quickly find the information they want.

How much does it cost, you ask? Unless you’re running an e-commerce site with thousands of products, you’ll likely fall into the $100/year price range. Google still offers a free version of Google Custom Search, but cost per click (CPC) ads will appear on the search engine results pages (SERPs).

A big challenge when incorporating any third party web tool or widget into your site is to make it look like it belongs there. With an annual subscription, Google allows you to completely customize the look and feel of your search engine and the results page. Your website visitors will be using the most powerful search engine every built and not even know it’s powered by Google.

The window on the left shows the administration view where you can control the settings of your custom site search; the window in the foreground shows what your users will see when they perform a search.

Google Custom Search also allows you to expand search results by applying synonyms or variants of your targeted search terms. If you sell tennis shoes but your customers in Wisconsin call them “sneakers”, you can tailor your search results accordingly so everyone will still find the right product.

If you need a more targeted search result, you can create a custom result, called a promotion in Google Custom Search, for a specified keyword. The promotion, which acts like an ad for that keyword, will appear at the top of the search engine results page, above the natural or organic results. Promotions take only moments to create and appear in your search results instantly.

Enter a custom promotion in your site search admin, and it will show up above the other search results when a user types in your specified keywords.

There’s no limit to the number of domains your search engine can index. If your online business requires that you have multiple websites, a single custom search tool will work fine. This example shows how search queries can deliver results for two related websites on a single results page:

Do you manage multiple websites? Make the user experience better by allowing your visitors to search all your domains at once.

In addition, you can gain valuable insight into your users’ search behavior through Google Analytics integration. What are your visitors looking for? Which products are they seeking most often? Are they searching for a product that you’re not offering? Maybe you can get direction for new product lines that will grow your business.

BONUS: Ensure Google sees all of your web pages

In order for the custom site search engine to be effective, Google needs to scan all the pages in your site. Google Custom Search relies on a sitemap.xml file to locate and index all of your pages, which can be submitted through Google Webmaster Tools. Once the sitemap is submitted, you can manually add new pages to be indexed for your site search so you can be sure no page is missed when your visitors are looking for information.

Although this step won’t guarantee higher placement in Google’s own search engine results page, the importance of this connection from an SEO standpoint is knowing that Google has crawled all of your web pages.

Go on, get site search!

There are several features that make this an attractive product and well worth the fee. Sign up for custom search through your Google account or give your friends at Vision Design a shout to get your site set up with Google Custom Search.

About Bill Katula