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Better search results with Google Custom Search Promotions, Synonyms and Auto-Completion

Updated on February 9, 2013
Pcunix profile image

I was born in 1948 and spent most of my career as a self employed computer trouble shooter for Unix systems.

If you run your own web site or blog, you probably want to provide some way for visitors to search within your content.

When I started out, I first wrote my own search code and then switched to Swish-E. When the size and complexity of my site grew, I finally switched to Google Custom Search, which is what I use today.

Google CSE is simple code you add to your site. You might think this is no different than using Google Search limited to a specific domain, but it actually is more powerful and, most importantly, more customizable. Delivering accurate search results is important for customer satisfaction and, with customization, can also help you drive traffic where you want it to go.

One of the ways to do that is "Promotions".  These let you specify pages that will appear at the very top of your normal search results. These pages are also set off in a box (much like the ads that appear on the free versions of Google CSE)

For example, in the picture below, we see the results of searching for "Laserjet" at my main website. The Google Ads appear first, but the first section of the results is entirely controlled by me through Promotions.

Google Custom Search Results with Promotions
Google Custom Search Results with Promotions

Because I created specific Promotions for the term "Laserjet", these results will always appear first.

Note that you do have to be specific. A person searching for "Laserjet printers" will not see these unless I create another promotion for that specific term. It woud be nice if Google allowed wild cards so that any search containing a word could bring up these promotions, but they do not.

When I first saw this, I thought I would use it a lot. However, I found that the Google search usually finds the best matches all by itself - it is rare that I have to help it with a Promotion like this.

I also know (from examining Analytics) that most people are very poor searchers. That is, they tend to type in long sentences rather than trying short words or phrases. As it is impossible to anticipate what words will be used (and because we have no wild card ability with this), I am unlikely to come up with many Promotions that will actually see use.

However, I do find these very useful for my own searches. My site is tech oriented and sometimes I need to find an article I know I have written. As noted, usually the Google search turns up what I want easily. Sometimes it does not, so for those cases, once I do locate the elusive page, I add a Promotion for a few keywords I might use the next time I need this. If those happen to help someone else another time, that's all to the good.

Promotions are easy. You simply type in the search word or phrase, and tell Google what page e include. You can add multiple phrases that promote one page (as shown in the example below) and you can use the same phrase again in a new promotion to add yet another page to the Promotion box.

Adding a Promotion to a Google Custom Search Engine
Adding a Promotion to a Google Custom Search Engine


Synonyms are another way to help guide visitors searches. The idea is that if your visitor searches for a particular word, you want to have the search engine include content that matches another word.

In the documentation, they explain that you don't need to do this for commonly understood relationships. Google already knows that "UK" and "Great Britain" are the same thing. However, they don't necessarily know the context of your website. For example, if someone types "string" into the search box at my site, they probably are not looking for either guitar strings or for something to tie up a package with - they almost certainly are interested in "strings" as used in programming. I therefore tell Google that "array" is a good synonym, as is "pointer". This helps the engine find the most appropriate content.

Synonyms are easy to add, as shown below.

Adding Synonyms
Adding Synonyms


Autocompletion is a recent addition. That's great by itself, but you can have custom completions where you control the suggestions. Not only that, but you can exclude completions that Google might otherwise offer and that can be done using wildcards! That can really help steer searchers to the best content.

You do have to update your page code when you turn this on for the first time. You also have to be patient - unlike the other things above, which take effect seemingly instantly, it can take some time for autocomplete results to kick in.

If you run your own site, search is important.  Google Custom Search Engines give you the power to control results to a much greater degree than anything else I have used.


Submit a Comment

  • JR White profile image

    JR White 7 years ago from New York

    Google CSE has come a long way. I used Swish-E for a client who had thousands of private documents to search and didn't want to share them with Google. With Swish-E we were able to customize the search and the display of results, but it was a tremendous amount of work. I wish we could have used Google.

    Thanks for the useful Hub.

  • Pcunix profile image

    Tony Lawrence 7 years ago from SE MA

    No, you cannot do this on hubpages. Yes, it is free, though they do have paid versions also.

    @rminela - you install CSE code on each page that uses search.

  • Granny's House profile image

    Granny's House 7 years ago from Older and Hopefully Wiser Time

    Can I do this on Hub Pages too

    Also I tried to do the Google Analytics thing, It says you have to paste something into your page code, I don't think Hubpages lets us do that. Also is this Google Custom Search free

    Please Help

  • rminela profile image

    rminela 7 years ago from Newberry, Fl.

    I have to say that my selection process involving keywords is one of my weaknesses. Update my page code...what's that?