Using the New Google Site Search on Your Website
In 2010, USC Web Services made the decision to switch from in-house Google Search Appliances (GSAs) to the Google-hosted Site Search for the USC Home Page search. Site Search is the paid version of Google Custom Search, which many USC units already use for their web site searches.
Why we switched
Google Custom Search (CSE) and Site Search (GSS) offer significant benefits over the GSAs:
- CSE and GSS use the same search index and ranking algorithms used in the public search at www.google.com. We have found the search results to be much more relevant than those obtained using the GSAs.
- Like the GSA, CSE and GSS provide the ability to promote sites by keyword and influence relevance rankings by page location and age
- In addition, we can classify web sites, directories, or pages so that searchers can refine their searches by category (see the Search Categories available at http://www.usc.edu/search/sitesearch/).
- Because the search engine is hosted by Google, we have the advantage of their massively-redundant infrastructure and no longer have to worry about equipment and software upgrades.
How this affects site owners at USC
USCs GSA contract expired at the end of 2010, which means that those web sites that are still using the GSA search will need to convert their searches to use GSS, set up their own CSE, or find another alternative.
Whether you are converting an exiting GSA search or are setting up a new search, here are the pros and cons to help you decide whether to use the USC GSS or set up your own CSE, plus links to instructions for both:
USC Site SearchPros:
- Easy to convert your existing search from the GSA to GSS with minimal changes to your search form and results page
- Not optimal for searches that cover more than 5 sites
- Custom categories and site promotions ("quicklinks") not available
- For new searches, you must set up a style sheet for search results and write your own XML parsing script or have access to PHP in order to use the Web Services parsing script.
Developers who prefer to deal directly with the GSS should consult the Google WebSearch Protocol Reference for Google Site Search for details on constructing a search and interpreting XML output. The unique ID for USC's GSS is 017196764489587948961:0uzwqg1rcr4.
For those who prefer a 'drop-in' solution, ITS Web Services provides a PHP script that can be included in your custom results page at the location where results should be displayed. The following pages describe how to use this script:
Google Custom Search EnginePros:
- "Instant" search results using Google's cut-and-paste code
- Categories and site promotions customized for your web site.
- Best for a search covering multiple sites
- Requires CSE setup and a Gmail account for administration
For information on how to set up your own free Google Custom search, see http://www.google.com/cse/. (Hint: set up a new Gmail acount to administer the CSE, so that it is not tied to a personal email account.)
Google Search Coverage
Finally, whether you choose to use the USC GSS or set up your own CSE, you'll want to ensure that your site is fully indexed by Google. Check your site's coverage by going to http://www.google.com and searching for 'site:yoursite.usc.edu'.
If you find gaps in your search coverage, you are encouraged to use Google's Webmaster Tools to increase your site's visibility in Google. Go to http://www.google.com/webmasters/edu/quickstartguide/ to learn more.