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Fine-tuning the Google Custom Search Engine

April 30th, 2013 by mdmcginnis

As we announced recently, we’re preparing to get rid of the Google Search Appliance (GSA) this fall and to start using the Custom Search Engine (CSE). Every website search box that has been using the Google Search Appliance will need to be updated. But with every change comes new possibilities. And I like it. I’m not the only one who suspects that Google has been more interested in adding new features to the CSE than to the GSA, so I think we’re going the right direction.

We have already imported all of our customizations from the GSA into our CSE, including KeyMatches, Synonyms, and our Do Not Crawl list. In the CSE settings, KeyMatches are called Promotions, and like Synonyms, you can set them up by clicking the Search Features link.

When setting up a Google Custom Search Engine, colleges and departments can specify which websites they want to include in search results, similar to a GSA Collection. For example, the CSE for the main university website is searching *.tamu.edu (all websites on the tamu domain) plus Aggie Athletics, AgriLife and TAMU Press. The CSE for our MarComm sites will return results only from those sites. In the CSE settings, click on the Setup link, then Sites to Search or Sites to Exclude (what the GSA calls the Do Not Crawl list).

If you have pages that you want to add to or remove from your index quickly, you can submit an on-demand indexing request through the CSE settings. Click Setup, and then click the Indexing tab. In the Index Now section, click “URLs in a Sitemap.” Or click “Specific URLs,” and then type the URL you want Google to index. Each CSE has an on-demand indexing quota of 200 URLs, but as a Google employee explained it, this quota is more like the maximum number of URLs you can submit at once. After the URLs are crawled and added to the main Google index, the on-demand indexing quota will be returned so webmasters can submit new requests.

I’m most excited about being able to use Linked Custom Search Engines. Of course, you can always let Google store your search engine settings. But since Linked CSEs are linked to files stored on your own server (and immediately cached by Google), you can write code to create CSE settings automatically – different ones for each page if you like. Or different results for different times of the day. Or for different users. “In fact,” says Google, “you can generate CSEs on demand, in response to a user’s query or a page on your site that your user is searching from.” For example, it’s easy to create a Linked CSE that searches only the links from a page.

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013 Search
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