Google lets sites create customized search tools
Google Inc. on Monday unveiled a radically new approach to online searches, offering a free service that lets a website operator create a tailored search engine to scour an index of handpicked sites.
Anyone who has used Web search engines knows the frustration of trying to find the desired information embedded in pages of results. Google’s Custom Search Engine adds human intelligence to the company’s hyper-efficient automated process, presumably increasing the relevance to the user.
In addition to letting website operators draw on their expertise to choose which Web pages to include in their search index, the new tool also will let them decide how the search results should be prioritized. By comparison, Google’s standard search results are automatically ranked by how many sites refer to a particular piece of information.
Web publishers can even open up the process to their users, allowing them to contribute to the list of websites to be searched.
Marissa Mayer, Google’s vice president of search products and user experience, said the company had identified an appetite for control over searching.
“Users really want it,” Mayer said. “We know people are interested in providing search boxes on their sites that are context-sensitive. If they have a site about bass fishing, they want their results to be about fishing, not about guitars. A search engine to carry that context and carry expertise is exciting.”
RealClimate.org, for instance, has used on its site a test version of Google’s customized search to provide what its scientists consider reliable information about climate change. The results are displayed on the RealClimate site.
“Unfortunately, since this topical subject has become rather politicized, the quality of information available on the Web is very variable, ranging from excellent to the atrocious,” Gavin A. Schmidt of New York’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies said in a statement. “With the Custom Google Search facility, we are able to create a searchable subset of the Web that, in our expert judgment, provides solid and reliable information.”
Such tailoring is a trend. The start-up Rollyo promises to do away with irrelevant results through its personalized search engine, which combs a hand-selected collection of Web resources. Eurekster Inc. similarly aims for focused results by giving more control to users.
“It’s a really interesting way of leveraging the wisdom of the crowds to improve the whole contextual search experience,” said Andrew Frank, research director for Gartner. “It returns to publishers some measure of editorial voice in their search pages.”
Frank said Google had good reason to let people tweak its flagship search engine: It creates more opportunities to sell advertising. The sites can participate in Google’s AdSense program and share online ad sales.
With Google distributing its search engine in a new way, said analyst Greg Sterling of Sterling Market Intelligence, users and site producers collaborate on building more effective, focused indexes. All that traffic, he said, can be converted into revenue.