Site Search: Using Google vs. Rolling-Your-Own
2½ minute read
So. You’ve built a Web site and need local search capabilities. Is it even worth it to develop your own solution when Google offers the whole deal by copying-and-pasting a few lines of code? With Google being able to crawl and catalog the expanse of (almost) the entire Web and present search results quickly and clearly to users, it’s a legitimate question to ask: Do any sites really need their own search systems? While many sites can forgo a proprietary search and just rely on Google, there are still a few good arguments to made for proprietary site search.
Restricted or Premium Content
In cases where content is available behind a login of some kind, or is otherwise not accessible to Google’s crawlers, a proprietary search is appropriate.
As an example, where I work, we offer an extensive B2B portal that contains content only accessible to users who are logged in. White papers, videos, and pricing worksheets are offered for our customers and are not available to the general public. Furthermore, there are restrictions in some cases where certain user classes have access to certain types of content, while others may not — Programmers have access to SDKs, UI templates, and the like, for instance. Our users expect these items to appear in search results when they are logged in and, in these cases, a local, propriety search makes sense over reliance on Google.
Proprietary or Specialized Search Content
If all of your content is available to Google’s crawlers, and all you want to search are the contents of the page, then a Google solution is fine. If, however, your search needs to take into account more than just the page content — and you need control of this criteria — then a custom solution is probably better.
For instance, if an online seller wants to factor user ratings of their products or product availability into search results, a proprietary solution would allow for this, where Google would likely not have this information.
Control Over Search Results and Rankings
Furthermore, when using Google as your site’s search provider, you are reliant on their results format and rankings. Sites that want control over how results are displayed would be better off choosing a customized solution over relying on Google.
For instance, a company wanting to ensure that newer products appear at the top of the search results, or who want to promote certain pages by giving them prominence in the results page would be better off with a proprietary site search.
Reporting and Analysis
Google offers a nice selection of reporting and analysis tools for searches done on a site, and this is probably fine for most. However, for full access to — and analysis of — your search data, a custom solution would offer more flexibility.
Ah, the P-word. Sites may just take issue with all of their search traffic going through a third party. In this case they may find it preferable to build their own search and keep their search data more private.