On a modest but significant scale, Google is sharing with its customers some of the control it wields over the search market.
As countless search-engine-optimization consultants can attest, Google maintains tight control over the parameters that rank the results of Internet searches. Google's power can be terrific for those who come out on top and a torment for those who rank lower.
But expectations are different for a Google service that lets Web site operators pay to use the company's search technology on their own properties. For those customers, Google now is sharing some control over the knobs and levers that govern search results.
Google launched the service in July under the name Custom Search Business Edition and expanded internationally in November. Now it's got the more palatable name Google Site Search, said Nitin Mangtani, product manager for enterprise and small-business search at Google.
"With this launch, we are giving full control to the Webmasters for indexing as well as for customizing these search results," Mangtani said.
Google Site Search's annual fees correspond to the number of Web pages Google indexes at a company site: $100 for up to 5,000 pages, $500 for up to 50,000 pages, $850 for up to 100,000 pages, $2,250 for up to 300,000 pages, and custom pricing beyond that.
The change could be significant for businesses.
Direct view of customer intent
Customers increasingly are comfortable with using search as a way to get what they need out of the Internet. Search engines are able to infer, to at least a rough degree, the intent of a searcher.
That intent becomes all the more important once a customer has taken the trouble to visit a company's Web site. If done well, a search box can connect users with a product they want to buy, documentation to figure out how it works, forums to discuss company topics, the right contact in the sales department.
In short, getting customers to the information they want could drastically reduce the likelihood they'll head to a competitor
But in order for a company to be happy relying on Google search technology, they're going to want to make sure it can meet their own business priorities. The revamped Google Site Service makes that easier.
Google Site Search also can provide a window into what users desire. Google cites the example of TechSmith, a screen-capture software company that increased its Mac OS X development efforts after finding potential customers searching on the site for it.
Some things with Google Site Search haven't changed. Customers of the service endow their Web sites with a search box that presents Google's search results for publicly available pages on the site. They can customize the appearance of the results and share Google ad revenue if desired.
What's new is that customers now have three ways to influence the search results:
With "synonyms," customers can upload a custom dictionary that Google can use to translate or interpret site-specific terms. For example, a banking company might want "SD" to be translated as "safety deposit" for searches on its site.
With "date biasing," customers can ensure more recently published documents rank higher in search results.
With "top results biasing," customers can make sure specific documents are high in the search results. That could be useful, for example, for a company selling digital cameras that has a promotional partnership with specific camera makers, Mangtani said. Or it could show online catalog results preferentially.
If that sounds like pay-for-play--a concept that has raised hackles in the search industry--it is.
But Google clearly was careful not to let the user-configurable search results affect the main Google search site. "Any special indexing we do for Google Site Search customers doesn't impact the ranking on Google.com," Mangtani said.
Under the covers, that's made possible because Google now augments the standard Google.com search index with a Google Site Search-specific index, he said. Google Web crawler software updates the index on a separate schedule from the regular Google index, he added.
Google Site Search is an example of software as a service--technology Google runs on its own servers that customers can employ. But the Mountain View, Calif.-based company also offers a search appliance--physical servers--that companies can install on their own sites. It's designed for displaying internal results such as information restricted to within the corporate firewall.