Google Site Search Will Soon Be Dead, Good Riddance

Posted on in Blog

Not long ago, Google decided to stop providing yet another of their beloved niche products. (Yes, I’m still bitter about the death of Google Reader.) Google Site Search is on the chopping block for complete end of operations by April fools day, 2018. The transition is going to be difficult, but really, it’s for the best.

What is Google Site Search?

If you’ve never heard of Google Site Search, you probably don’t need to bore yourself with an article about transitioning away from it. Nonetheless, most people have probably used a website utilizing this technology, even without realizing it.

Screenshot of the wordpress search feature with the keyword
Even uses GSS. Is this a subtle admission of their own search technology problems?

Google Site Search (GSS) is a product designed to find content on a single website, it provides results almost the same as punching in my search terms into, except it’s embedded on the website, and does not display ads. It costs a nominal amount of money per year to use. Most often, it was used as crutch for websites that didn’t have the resources to build their own website search, and wanted to use Google’s index instead.

This sounds like a useful thing, why would Google kill it?

Google didn’t really give us a reason for the end of Site Search, but there’s a lot of good theories. For one, most people who implement GSS are doing so very badly. Even though Google provides the ability to use custom styling with their result pages, most companies never bother to do the work of styling the GSS search results, often it looks like a company cut and pasted the results page into their website. It’s ugly. And having “Powered by Google” on an ugly site probably hurts their image a little bit.

Illustrated Google logo that looks like a monster roaring and eating money

It could also have been a business decision. Keep in mind that even though Google Site Search is getting the ax, its ad-powered sibling Google Custom Search is still available. Considering the mass amount of data Google has about everything and everybody, they probably crunched the numbers and realized they make a lot more ad revenue from Custom Search than the $100/year Google Site Search.

So what do I do now?

The options also aren’t ideal. Google will automatically switch GSS websites to Google Custom Search before April 1, 2018, and it’ll function more-or-less the same, but Google will display ads on the website’s search page. For most people this is not acceptable.

One transition option is to use the technology already available – if a website runs on a major content management platform, like WordPress, Drupal, or Joomla, it’s already got a search engine built in. To use it, an adept website developer is going to need to do some small scale code magic. Plugins like Relevanssi for WordPress can also save a lot of time in that process.

Waddington's Cluedo the great detective board game.
That’s not Cludo. Source: Flickr

If using the existing search technology is impossible or impractical, a number of third parties may be able to fill the hole GSS is about to leave. Algolia, Cludo, and AddSearch all seem like viable and affordable alternatives, but they still won’t be drop in replacements. Expect a developer to need a day of work for that transition.

Likely, someone will also be needed to design the search results and match them to the existing website design language (developers are generally bad at this), because until now, most GSS customers have been relying on Google’s design and calling it good.

Need help?

Google Site Search has always been a sort of hacky patch for websites that have major technology problems, digging into this could be a rabbit hole you don’t want to deal with. So don’t! Just give us a call, we’re here to help!

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