Changes to the Google Site Search Offering: How It Could Affect You and Your Business

Date: 07 Mar 2017

On 22 February 2017, Google sent an email, addressed to “Legal Department”, that looked a lot like spam. The email was to inform all Google Site Search customers that Google has decided to “wind[...] down sales and renewals of Google Site Search (GSS)”, and that starting April 1st, 2017, new purchases and renewals of GSS will not be available.

This email, sent to hordes of web admins, content editors and marketing departments across the globe, has been met with a resounding “huh?”. Containing the absolute minimum of information concerning the change on Google’s Site Search website, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense - why would they get rid of a good product that’s making them money?

1.  Did you know Google powers your site's search function?

That’s right - for many of you when people hit “search” in your site, it actually sends a request off to Google, who have already had their bots crawl your site (most sites are crawled by bots at least once a day), and send back results using Google’s search expertise. You might not have known it was Google all along, because it’s using Google Site Search (GSS), which can be styled to look like you - your colours, your fonts, your brand.

Now that you know you have GSS*, you may be disappointed to know it’s being taken away from you… kind of.

*if you’re not sure whether or not your site is using GSS, contact us to find out.

2. GSS Looks Like You

The reason so many businesses either chose or were recommended GSS is that it gives you the power of Google, without looking like you’ve just copied/pasted the Google search box into your site. GSS subscribers pay a small fee to get the professional touch, with control over how the search and results look, and no ads. Google has a free offering in the market called Custom Search Engine (CSE) that, on the other hand, has a few interesting features:

  1. Ad-based. That means that you’ll be at the mercy of your competitor’s paid advertising embedded right on your site (with the exception of not-for-profit organisations).
  2. There’s no option to disable Google’s branding.
  3. Query limits are capped daily. The search function on popular or high-volume websites will stop working once you’ve hit your quota.
  4. No email support. If you have a problem, you’ll have to Google the answer.

3. "Automatic Conversion" Doesn't Mean Seamless Transition: You Need to Act Soon

Going back to that fateful email from Google - they are planning to discontinue the GSS product as soon as customers’ licenses expire after 1 April 2017. Check your renewal date - because this might be you very soon. What happens next? Google says “when your GSS subscription expires or the quota is exhausted, your subscription will automatically convert to Custom Search Engine (CSE)”. That’s right - the free product that allows Google to pump ads into your site will be replacing its customisable counterpart.

While the automatic conversion of your GSS account will be seamless, the conversion of the search functionality will not. Here's what will happen:

  1. When your account switches over, the search function on your website will stop working.
  2. Therefore, before your subscription expires, you will need to replace GSS with another search tool (recommendations below).
  3. If you choose to replace GSS with CSE, there will still be work required to switch over and tweak the styles.
  4. After the switch is complete, your search won’t look quite so good, but still, have much the same functionality if you choose to stick with Google.

4. Maybe It's Time to Say Goodbye to Google 

Don’t get me wrong: Google Search is the pinnacle of search engines; they pump countless buckets of money into making it the best, and they have an enormous user base. However, if you’re not willing to degrade the visual appeal of your search results, and don’t like the idea of their ads being pumped into your site, it's definitely worth evaluating alternatives. We’ve done some of the pre-work to help you with your decision. 

Some (of many possible) Alternatives:

1. Lucene with Umbraco

Those of you using Umbraco CMS are in luck! Lucene is an in-built solution that may not be as hyper-powerful as Google, but it gets the job done. Choose Lucene if you don’t need leading-edge search functionality, but do want full control of the look and feel of your search results page. No subscription required, and only a small implementation cost.

2. Amazon

Amazon is a paid subscription service, slightly pricier than your current GSS, but arguably equally powerful, and with full control over the look and feel. If Lucene isn’t powerful enough, but you’re not willing to compromise on design by going with CSE, then Amazon is definitely worth a look.

3. Cludo

Cludo has positioned themselves as competitors to Google, but frankly we find the costs prohibitive - with basic functionality starting at around over $3k yearly for subscription, we’ve crossed this one off our list.

4. Bing

Bing has an offering similar to GSS.

5. GSS Extension

If you want to buy yourself some time, there is a workaround to extend your GSS for a year - if you act fast.

In Conclusion

It's important to review your site's search functionality and, if it's GSS, review your options. Contact your digital partner for help. If you'd like someone to talk it over with first, feel free to get in touch with the team at Terabyte.

Google's soul-searching needn’t stop others from searching your website!


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