Websites big and small are (or should be) re-evaluating their search strategy, as Google turns its back on site search.

Both Google Search Appliance (for bigger sites and enterprise search) and Google Site Search (for smaller sites) are now on the way out.

What’s happening to Google Search Appliance and Site Search?

Google Search Appliance (GSA) is an all-in-one yellow server box that sits in the corporate data centre which is used for all aspects of company search (intranet, extranet and website search).

There’s still no official notice of end-of-life from Google on the GSA website, which seems remiss. But according to reports, such as this one from Fortune, and conversations with Google search partners (who sell, install and customise GSA), the product is no longer for sale to new customers and license renewals for existing customers are expected to end in 2018.

A Google search for “Google Search Appliance” delivers a number of paid search ads for “GSA replacement” or “GSA alternative” from vendors such as Yippy, Swiftype and Mindbreeze. It is unlikely Google would allow this if GSA was ongoing.

Google Site Search (GSS) is a widget you'll be familiar with that adds a search box to the host site and performs a Google search, but only of pages on that site. Search results would look like this "site:econsultancy.com site search" – but without the ads. There is some opportunity for customisation, including removing the Google branding from the search box.

Despite the fact that the two outgoing products Site Search and Search Appliance sit side by side on Google’s Enterprise Search pages they are two quite different beasts.

Graham Gillen, Vice President, Marketing, Search Technologies, an international search consultancy that has worked on more than 200 GSA implementations, explains:

“Google Site Search is a service that you license from Google in exchange for an annual fee that is tied to the total content amount. You have some degree of control but not much. The advantage is it has zero footprint and you generally don’t maintain it at all.

“Google Search Appliance is used for ecommerce web search or for your intranet to search documents internally. It is much more configurable than GSS and much more powerful, however you did have to do some work to implement it (or hire a company).

According to an official notice on the GSS site, the product will be “completely shut down by April 1 2018”.

The assumption is that on shut down GSS will default to the free product Custom Search Engine (see below) and ads will start to appear in search results – potentially for a competitor – which would be no April Fools’ joke.

So, what is Google providing instead?

Google Custom Search Engine (CSE) is a free search widget, but delivers search results with ads (see screenshot of the Stuff website below) – the same ads shown in Google web search. Once GSA and GSS have been killed off, this will be the only Google search option for websites (as things stand). Publishers will receive 51% of revenue from any search ads on shown on their sites, via AdSense for Search.

Google Cloud Search is part of G-Suite – which is a Microsoft Office-like set of productivity tools aimed at knowledge workers. The Google Suite website suggests there are elements of enterprise search, e.g. searching the corporate directory. But there is no website search tool.

The question is: are companies ready to replace a Google Appliance that sits within the corporate datacentre for a cloud-based service?

Miles Kehoe, President, at search consultancy New Idea Engineering:

“Google is getting rid of both of the enterprise/site search products in favour of corporate search where all of your searchable content lives at Google, rather than behind your firewall.

“I know banks and big corporations are wary of moving their confidential company content out from behind their firewalls – even if Google promises it’s secure.”

So customers of GSA and GSS need to start rethinking their web & enterprise search strategy promptly.

Screenshots of Google Search Appliance and Google Site Search pages. GSS comes with the warning “Google has discontinued sale/renewal of the Google Site Search since Apr 1 2017. The product will be completely shut down by April 1, 2018.”
 

How many companies are affected by the demise of GSA and GSS?

Unfortunately analysts companies, e.g. Gartner, IDC, do not appear to track market share of search technologies, and Google doesn’t publicise numbers or share them with implementation partners.

BuiltWith, a site that tracks the technologies that underpin websites, believes that GSA is currently live on 189,849 websites globally and including 2% among the top 10,000 websites.

There are nine case studies listed on the GSA site. Xerox, World Bank, Vodafone, Discovery Channel, Honeywell Aerospace, British Airways, Hays, Société Générale and City of Calgary. Many of these are intranet (internal) search deployments, rather than website ones. But searches on BuiltWith suggest that the websites of Calgory.ca and Hays.com still use the appliance.

Finding data on usage of Google Site Search is harder. BuiltWith and SimilarTech, a similar type of service, do not appear to distinguish between GSS (the paid version) and CSE (the free version).

BuiltWith believes that 596,645 websites globally using CSE, including 5% among the top 10,000 websites. If correct, this eclipses the collective users of rival search products (as identified by BuiltWith) such as Algolia, Swiftype, Hawk Search, SearchSpring, Queryly, Klevu and Coveo.

SimilarTech, which also tracks the technologies that underpin websites, reckons that 287,857 websites globally use CSE. The largest websites using CSE, according to SimilarTech, include GSMArena, Stuff.co.nz, Purdue University and NVidia. It’s clear from the search box branding that Stuff.co.nz and Purdue.edu are using CSE (the other two could also be using CSE, but without branding).

The search results (as shown in the image below) reveal that Stuff uses the free version and Purdue uses the paid, ad-free version.

 Screenshots of two sites that use Google Custom Search. Purdue.edu does not show ads, just results from the University site. Stuff.co.nz shows four ads before results from the site. These are the same ads as shown on a Google web search for the same term.

What are the replacements for GSA?

There are no shortage of vendors targeting the search market, many of them targeting different aspects of the market. So it is important for companies to identify their needs, then come up with a short list of appropriate suitors.

Gartner has done a good job of differentiating between the enterprise search providers or what it now refers to as “Insight engines” i.e. those that focus predominantly on intranet/internal company search from those vendors that focus on website search.

Insight engines in the Gartner March 2017 Magic Quadrant include: Attivio, Coveo, Dassault Systems, Funnelback, IBM, Lucidworks, Microsoft, Mindbreeze, Sinequa and Smartlogic. 

Enterprise search providers fall into a number of different categories, which Miles Kehoe lists as:

  • Cloud based, e.g. Google Cloud Search.
  • Search appliance, e.g. Mindbreeze, SearchBlox, Yippy.
  • Hosted search / software as a service (SAAS), e.g. Algolia.
  • Traditional enterprise search, e.g. Coveo, Lucidworks Fusion, Attivio.
  • Open Source (popular and ‘free’, but require considerable investment) e.g. Apache Lucene, Solr, Elasticsearch (both based on Lucene).

What are the alternative website search engines?

Among the website search engines, Gartner has split out those best suited to commerce search. In a January 2017 market report, research director Mike Lowndes identified and profiled 21 different vendors.

Commerce search providers included (each with a notable reference customer): Algolia (Quicksilver), Attraqt (Tesco), BloomReach (Sears), Celebros (Avon), EasyAsk (North Face), Episerver Find (Electolux), Fredhopper (ASOS), GroupBy Cloud (CVS), IBM (1-800-Flowers.com), Inbenta (Carrefour), Lucidworks (Home Depot), Omni Retail Sidekick (Toys "R" Us),  and Sentient Aware (Skechers).

It's important to note that many of these web search engines are based on the Open Source engines, Lucene, Solr or Elastic. The majority of the engines listed are available on a SAAS model, many hosted in the cloud, e.g. Algolia, Episerver.

Lowndes identifies some trends among commerce engines that could influence vendor selection:

  • Integration of recommendation engines.
  • Personalized search (based on browser/search behaviour).
  • Intent-driven results and navigation, including ability to understand "lifestyle" questions.
  • Algorithmic product grouping – grouping related products.
  • Natural-language processing (NLP) – understanding/reacting to spoken or written natural language.

Act now

Customers of GSA and GSS need to start rethinking their web/enterprise search strategy promptly. Remember, GSS customers will probably have an earlier deadline but GSA customers face a potentially much trickier migration, assuming the use of GSA across the full remit of enterprise search.

Users of both solutions need to evaluate the alternative vendors – of which there are many.

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Published 8 June, 2017 by Andy Favell

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David Urbansky, CEO at SEMKNOX

Site Search 360 is an easy drop in replacement for Google Custom Search for anyone interested: https://sitesearch360.com/

12 months ago

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Vanessa Meyer, CMO at Loop54

To help decide whether to go the SaaS or Open Source route for replacing search engine, its helpful to consider the following. Disclosure, I work at Loop54 - which is a SaaS search engine for ecommerce.

From our experience, the hardest thing about deploying a search solution for e-commerce is tuning it for relevance. Most OSS search engines have many tools for managing document scoring, synonyms and language features such as stemming, pluralization of words, spelling correction and other necessities that improve the end user experience.

With all this tooling, tuning the engine to provide relevant search results sounds like an easy task, but in reality it can be quite difficult. It is made harder by things such as complexity of language (words can mean different things in different context, or the same thing can be described by multiple words), individuality of users (many words have different meaning to different people) and bad quality of data (products are missing attributes, are described inconsistently, or simply has the wrong data). On top of this you have to take into account variations such as seasonal variations, product inventory variations and trends in language and demand.

What often happens when you set up an OSS search engine deployment is that you tweak its relevance to provide good results for the top 10–100 most common search queries. This means adding synonyms, tuning stemming and pluralization settings and make sure you have coverage for the most common spelling errors. But in many e-commerce stores, the top 100 search queries only make up a few percent of the total search volume, so most queries will not be optimized. So you need to dedicate a lot of resources to keep optimizing more and more queries, and while you’re doing this your inventory changes so you need to do it all over again. It is not uncommon for retailers to have at least one person full-time committed to tuning search relevance.

So while OSS search engines are good because they are flexible and have great community support, you often miss out on a lot of sales because the search engine is simply not made to optimize for conversion. For instance, they don’t have features such as learning from user behavior, product up-sell/cross-sell, personalized search results, conversion-aware spelling correction and autocomplete, related products etc.

If you opt for an e-commerce-focused SaaS solution instead, you get an engine with all these features and get to buy into a team of search experts that make sure that the engine is performing optimally when it comes to end user experience and sales. Plus you get benefits such as reduced maintenance and professional support, should you need it.

12 months ago

Nicolas Wu

Nicolas Wu, Product Marketing Manager at Adobe Systems

Disclosure: I am the product marketing manager for Adobe Search&Promote.

While thinking about commerce search solution to replace the current search appliance or product in your organization, you might want to learn more about Adobe Search&Promote because of the following:

Enterprise-class Software as a service (SAAS) solution
Cloud solution is the trend in the current IT world, and our cloud-based search solution allows you to enjoy the performance, scalability, faster time to value, rapid implementation, automatic update, and lower total cost of ownership.

Broad site search capabilities
Select from features such as auto-complete, “Did you mean?”, facet, filter, linguistics and industry terminology to allow your visitors’ searches to be interpreted or corrected to deliver the right results. The essential site search options create a smooth search experience to your site visitors

Full control over search algorithm with metrics-based relevance
Define how your site visitors find your webpages, documents, products or content on your website. The full control over the search algorithm allows you to choose what data to index, how to weigh each index and optimize your search results based on the KPI matters to your business most. For example, you can make PDF file always have a higher rank than a Word document.

Marketer-driven user interface
Designed for marketers to use to easily optimize valuable search results pages. With the marketer-friendly user interface, marketer can fine tune the relevance setting, review the search term report, change the search algorithm, and promote results without the support from IT team.

Precise result promotion
Set business rules to dynamically manipulate the search results. You could specify which results to display, what position on the search results, and when to display them, such as pinning the newest article at the top, inserting seasonal promotion products in the #2 position on the search results, or removing a brand’s search results from the search results of its competitor’s name.

Geolocation search
Use the geolocation data to provide results that nearby a certain location. For example, newspaper website can personalize the local news based on the zip code of the site visitors, and retailer can tell site visitors stores nearby using their latitude/altitude.

Personalized search result with Adobe Target integration
The user behavior varies based on audience. The integration with Adobe Target allows you to personalize search results for different persona, so people with different gender, location, age, and so on will all have the search results designed for them.

Self-learning capability with Analytics integration
Integration with Adobe Analytics gives insight into search term performance and profitable navigation behavior through your sites, apps, and more. Adobe Search&Promote will self-learn how to optimize the search results using conversion rate, or any other key metrics tracked in your Adobe Analytics, such as number of retweet, download, or time spent.

Integration with Adobe Experience Manager to customize presentation layer for search page, including facet, navigation bar, and search box. integrated S&P components/indexing, etc. The native integration with Experience cloud, your organization doesn't need to integrate disparate vendors to achieve same functionality.

Adobe Search&Promote is part of Adobe Target family, the personalization engine for Adobe Experience Cloud. It is the solution to bring the most personalized to your site visitors and allows you to fully utilize the search result pages to create the conversion your business would love to see.

12 months ago

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Hamish Ogilvy, Engineer at Sajari.com

Check out https://www.sajari.com/website-search/replace-google-site-search as an alternative to google site search. It's a major upgrade to GSS (the URL provided has a comparison checklist) and you can be up and running in minutes.

10 months ago

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Seppo Puusa, SEO analyst at Hopkins

In the name of full transparency, I work for a digital marketing agency, and we were hired by AddSearch.com. I would like to add them to consideration here.

Pricing starts at $29/month, and that plan is suitable for most small to medium sized companies and does more or less everything GSS did, and then some more. AddSearch is great for companies with limited technical resources. Getting started is as simple as pasting the JS search snippet on the page. Custom crawler fetches the content from your website and there's no need to use complicated APIs.

9 months ago

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Chris Peckham, Developer at Global Graphics

Whereas Google Site Search indexes a very wide variety of file types, making *content* as well as metadata searchable, nearly all of those 'drop in' replacements fail on this count and will index HTML only - or - perhaps additionally PDF. To claim to be a replacement to GSS without this provision is misleading - add to this, the shortfall is usually buried in the FAQ or documentation, and has to be inferred.

I'm still looking for a suitable replacement, but nothing mentioned in this thread, or found in my wider searches has come up with the goods. So far, the Bing API seems to come closest.

8 months ago

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Chiara Algarotti, Marketing Assistant at doofinder

doofinder is also a perfect alternative to Google Site Search. You can find more information here: https://www.doofinder.com/en/blog/choice-google-site-search. You can install it in 5 minutes and have a 30 days free trial.

3 months ago

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