Friday, September 28, 2007

Tips & Tricks: Using a custom Google search engine on your Web store

Google recently started marketing a pretty interesting tool called "Custom Search Business Edition". Let's take a look at what it is and how it could help your e-commerce store.

What is it?

It'a a Google-powered search engine for your Web site. What does this mean? In a nutshell:

  • You can add a search form anywhere on your Web site (e.g. on every page, at the top)
  • The results come from Google's index (fast, good results)
  • You can define the "portion" of the Google index that the results come from
  • The search results can be an integral part of your Web site, with no ads

For example, here is a search for "Google Checkout" on our Early Impact Web site. Notice that the results include both static content (e.g. Web pages, PDF files) and dynamic content (Knowledge Base articles). The results are framed within our Web site interface.


This service has been part of Google for a while. What's new is that now you can get an ad-free, cheap version of Google, seamlessly blended into your Web site design. Pricing right now is as follows, based on the number of pages that are being searched:

  • Up to 5,000 web pages: $100 per year
  • Up to 50,000 web pages: $500 per year
  • Up to 100,000 web pages: $850 per year
  • Up to 300,000 web pages: $2250 per year

About the search index

A custom Google search engine is a subset of the whole system. Results in the custom search engine exist in Google. You cannot "add" content to the index. You can only filter it so that results that exist in the Google search engine do not come up in your custom version of it. In other words: your custom version of Google is a filtered version of the Google index. Filtered so that it only returns results that you want to show (e.g. only pages that contain your Web site URL).

Getting your store pages to come up in the results

Your store catalog pages (e.g. categories and products) will come up in the results only if they have been indexed by Google. So make sure that Google is building a good index of your store pages.

This article is not the right place to talk about good search engine optimization for your Web site. That said, the approach to getting your store properly indexed is probably known to you by now: use a store map, a Google sitemap, and lots of Well-designed, text-rich static pages to link to your catalog.

In fancier terms: build a lot of link popularity for your category and product pages within your Web site. If you do, you can be almost positive that all of those pages will be found and indexed by a search engine spider.

Why it can help your e-commerce store

Your shopping cart software already has a search feature. I'm sure that's the case. It could be more or less sophisticated, but it's there. The issue is that the search feature included in your e-commerce system typically only searches your store catalog, not the rest of your Web site. What about your forum, knowledge base, regular HTML pages, blogs, etc. etc.?

Could a search that includes those documents help? Could you convert more sales if customers were able to search all of that content? Search is king, they say. That's true on your Web site too. Many studies show that a majority of visitors to a Web site are likely to use the search feature, if it's there.

Since the cost of adding this Google service to your online business is rather low, I would give it a try.

But how can you easily combined the custom Google search engine with your other search feature? Here is a simple suggestion for quick implementation. I'm sure that a much fancier integration of the two could be done, but let's keep things simple and "non-technical" for now.

Combining a Custom Google Search Engine with your e-commerce search form

Again, this is just a suggestion for quick implementation. If you have access to a good developer, they can probably use the API that Google has made available for the custom search service to get a much fancier integration implemented on your Web store.

What I am suggesting is that you alter the advanced search page provided by your e-commerce software to include both the Google Custom Search form and the rest of the search filters. That way you can offer your store visitors a way to either perform a generic Web site search or a more specific store search. The latter will typically have more search filters available (more or less advanced based on how sophisticated your shopping cart software is).

Here is a visual example of this approach. The search form for the Custom Google Search engine is at the top. Technically speaking, the page contains 2 HTML forms.

I hope this helps you convert more store visitors into customers!