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Setting up Site Search: Google Site Search Alternatives

by: Hostwinds Team  /  May 22, 2017


Google Site Search, the site search that many site owners have relied on for years, is shutting down… as have many of Google services that webmaster have come to rely on in the past and had to find alternatives to. Any new purchase for it or renewals must be made before April 1, 2017, and the service will completely close the doors on April 1, 2018. If you have a subscription to it, you will be automatically be given Custom Search Engine when your license expires.

Custom Search Engine is free and ad-supported, but the features are different from what you're used to with Google Site Search. It lets users search not only your site but the whole internet. And the following features, which are included in GSS, are not available in CSE:

  • Ability to search images only
  • XML API access to search results
  • Ability to remove ads and Google branding
  • Unlimited JSON API (there's a daily limit with CSE)
  • Ability to transfer ownership
  • Email support
  • Ability to share query quotas

The site search that many site owners have relied on for years is shutting down… as have many Google services in the past. Click To Tweet

With all these changes, there are bound to be many site owners searching for an alternative to Google Site Search. Plus, the ads that show up at the top of search results with CSE are not enticing. They can easily lead your customers a way to a competitor's site.

The good news is that there are several other options out there that will let you keep site search going on your site.

Note: If you want complete control over your site search and what powers it, you need to be running your site on a dedicated server or VPS. Shared hosting will be limited. The good news is that a VPS is literally only a few dollars more per month.

Why is site search important?

Site search can be a potent and insightful tool for knowing what your customers want and revealing possible flaws in your site's design. Moz even refers to site search as SEO's younger sibling, and unfortunately, over 80% of companies aren't using it to their advantage.

Fact is, when a visitor is using your site search, it's much different than if they were searching Google. They obviously want to buy or learn from you and look for products or information specifically from you. They're intentionally searching just your site, and that's a pretty big thing.

Discover new keywords

You can do all the keyword research you want, but nothing beats getting search phrases directly from your visitors. And that's exactly what you can do with the site search. No guesswork. By analyzing the search terms they use while searching your site, you can see exactly how they think and the exact phrases they use while trying to find something. Chances are pretty good that you'll discover phrases you would have never thought of or found through traditional keyword research.

Discover weak points in your site's design or navigation

If you see that customers are often searching for something in particular, then that's something you can obviously improve. Make it easier to find that particular page or product by adding it to easy-to-use navigation menus. If they always seem to be on a certain page when they start searching for something, then maybe add it to just that page or use an unobtrusive message asking, "Looking for xxx?"

How do I set up site search on my server?

Probably the best site searches are ones that you install on your server. You aren't relying on a third-party service that you don't ultimately control, and since it's on your server, it will typically run faster too.

Of course, this means you'll need access to your server, so you need to be using a dedicated server or VPS. With shared hosting plans, you're limited to what type of scripts are available and even what PHP version your site's running on.

See our budget VPS plans starting at $7.50/month.
See powerful, 100% customizable dedicated servers starting at $100/month.

Solr is an enterprise-level search that's also open source… free. And powerful enough that plenty of major companies base their site search on it. According to Narayan Prusty at SitePoint, Drupal, DuckDuckGo, Yahoo, and Instagram have all used it (That article and guide was written in 2014, so things may have changed). It's not the easiest thing to set up, but it's worth it if you need a free, powerful, and super fast site search.

Algolia is another option with a free tier plan, but you're required to keep their logo/branding if you use the free plan.

Other options, which aren't free and can range from $xx/month to $xxx/month, include:

CLUDO (Starts at $299/month)
Swiftype (Scales pricing, have to contact them… to me, this says expensive)
AddSearch (Starts at $29/month)
Amazon Cloud Search (Based on usage)

What are some easier or cheap Google Site Search alternatives?

Luckily, just because Google Site Search is going away doesn't mean you can't tap into the power of site search. There are plenty of other ways to provide a search feature to the users on your site.

Here are some Google Site Search alternatives - what will you be using? Click To Tweet

Easy site search for WordPress users

WordPress already has a site search feature built-in, but there are far better options out there. Here are just a couple to consider, whether you're looking for something free to get started with or something more in-depth and professional.

Better Search (Free)
https://wordpress.org/plugins/better-search/

The Better Search plugin has a surprising amount of features for a free plugin and currently has over 8,000 active installs. It automatically replaces the search that WP has built-in and has seamless integration. Some of the features you get with Better Search are:

  • Show search results based on date or relevance.
  • In-depth control of priorities for search results
  • A heatmap that shows popular searches by day or overall
  • Use your own CSS or template file to match the design of your site
  • Profanity filter
  • Translations for different languages

Ajax Search Pro ($29)
https://codecanyon.net/item/ajax-search-pro-for-wordpress-live-search-plugin/3357410

This plugin isn't free (obviously), but if you want to really customize your site search without dealing with a bunch of code and scripts, then it might be worth considering. You can customize your search over 400 ways! There's a demo of it on the sales page, so you can get a feel for it before buying it. Some of the features you can get from Ajax Search Pro include:

  • Responsive design
  • Crystal clear design with SVG and CSS3 icons
  • More than 60 pre-designed templates
  • Well documented instructions and tutorial videos
  • Clean, easy to use backend admin
  • Compatible with Visual Composer and WooCommerce
  • Custom fields and taxonomy
  • Search statistics
  • Multisite support

Will you be looking for a Google Site Search alternative, or will you stick with the non-impressive CSE? Is there another site search that you'd recommend that isn't listed here?

Written by Hostwinds Team  /  May 22, 2017

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