Google releases custom search engine service

Google has launched a new service designed to let Web site publishers build their own search engines using Google’s massive index of page links.

The Google Custom Search Engine service will let anyone, from individuals to organizations, put a Google-powered search box on their Web sites that only searches certain sites and pages. That way, the publisher of a Web site about, say, hockey, could put a search box on his home page that only returns links to pages about that sport that he hand-picked. The service will also let publishers have a search engine that taps Google’s index in full but gives preference to results from Web sites they have pre-selected.

With Custom Search Engine, Google joins others that provide similar services, including Yahoo Inc. and Rollyo Inc. These custom engines are part of the social search concept, which taps users to refine the search engine experience by contributing, categorizing, tagging and sharing search results. For example, site publishers using the Google service can let others contribute to their custom index.

Designed to be extremely easy and intuitive to use, the service will let site publishers build their own search engine in a matter of minutes through the use of menus and wizards, said Marissa Mayer, Google’s vice president of search products and user experience.

The service is hosted on Google servers, so site publishers don’t get access to search query logs, a sensitive topic for users who are concerned about the privacy of their search activities. However, the entire search experience happens in the publishers’ sites, and they can personalize the search results page so that its layout is in tune with the rest of their pages, Mayer said. Google will display contextual ads with search results, but sites run by government agencies, nonprofit organizations and universities can opt out of this.

Google stands to benefit not only from sharing ad revenue with publishers but also from propagating the availability of its search engine, analyst Greg Sterling of Sterling Market Intelligence said. “People are doing searches on all kinds of Web sites, not just search engines,” he said. “Search has become the Web’s navigational paradigm.”

Meanwhile, there is considerable demand from publishers for custom search engines because they realize that providing that capability makes their Web sites more attractive to their visitors, Sterling said.

The new service became available Monday night at http://www.google.com/coop/cse.

(Macworld.com is one of the first sites to launch Google Custom Search. As of Monday, Macworld.com’s site search is powered by a Google Custom Search Engine.)

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