Many campus websites are still using Google Custom Search for their site search boxes, even though Texas A&M has had our own high-end Google Search Appliance for more than a year. (And some sites are still using Google Syndicated Search, a program which Google has actually discontinued. Better not lose your Syndicated Search password, or your search results may look like this).
Like Google Custom Search (and we used to use it too), the Google Search Appliance is free for any Texas A&M University website. But unlike Google Custom Search, our Google Search Appliance allows much greater control of your search. Let me tell you how.
Google Custom Search used to be the cat’s pajamas, but I can’t see any reason to use it anymore for our campus websites (any subdomain ending with tamu.edu).
Using the Google Search Appliance:
- You can create customized Aggie results (ever try searching for “alumni“? “hello“?)
- You can create KeyMatches (which look like free Google ads) that point your visitors the exact results you want them to see. You’re no longer at the mercy of whatever pages Google decides to show first. We own the server now.
- Complete control of the look and feel of your search results. Add and remove logos and result fields. Exclude entire sections of your site from the search indexes, if necessary. Create a multi-site search collection, and tell Google what sites you want to include. In the past, we’ve offered this level of customization only to college-level webmasters, but we’re considering opening it up to others.
- Make any of your databases searchable through the familiar Google interface. For example, it should be possible to search the campus directory, event calendars, and course listings. It’s even possible to include password-protected pages in searches, but only show them to people who have access to them. We just haven’t tried it yet.
Let’s compare our Google Search Appliance head to head with Google Custom Search, using some of the Top 10 most popular search terms. Often the results are similar, but we’ll particularly see why KeyMatches make the Google Search Appliance superior, especially when an important page is outside the tamu.edu domain.
The first result on Google Custom Search takes you to the Aggie Traditions website, but you can’t order a ring from them. The KeyMatch on the Google Search Appliance takes you directly to the Association of Former Students Aggie Ring homepage, which gives you everything you need.
Not that we have anything against working with fish or bugs, but on Google Custom Search, the Career Center site is way down the page. However, it’s at the top of the Google Search Appliance results.
The first result on Google Custom Search takes you to the English Language Institute, which is the wrong result if you’re not studying there. Same with the third result – not what you’re looking for unless you’re in Qatar. The second result, this one from the Division of Finance fortunately, lets you estimate your tuition. Except presumably you want to pay it. That requires a couple more clicks. But thanks to KeyMatches, the Google Search Appliance requires only one.
The Google Custom Search refers you to the Graduation, Faculty Senate and TAMU News websites, even to Animal Science. The first result on the Google Search Appliance takes you to the MSC Bookstore website – especially important once the MSC Bookstore is no longer located in the MSC.
The differences here are even more striking. All you want is a textbook, but Google Custom Search tells you about caps and gowns and all about the MSC, including its history. Meanwhile, the Google Search Appliance knows that you want the bookstore, not the MSC, and that’s the top result.