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.