Google Site Search (GSS), according to Google’s website, “brings the same technology that powers Google.com to your website, delivering relevant results with lightning speed.”
That sounds great – where can you sign up?
Well, unfortunately, Google decided to shut down GSS back in April 2018, leaving many websites without a straightforward site search solution.
There are plenty of Google Site Search alternatives available, but it can be hard to know where to begin in the search for a good replacement – not least because part of the beauty of GSS was that it just worked. To lend you a hand, we've put together a rundown of the best of the various options, along with some guidance on how to choose the right solution for your business.
Google Custom Search
If you were previously a GSS user, your site search will automatically switch to this service once your contract runs out.
Google Custom Search (GCS) provides similar features to GSS, but it falls short of the mark in a few key areas.
Because GCS is free to use, it means it’s supported by ads which appear within search results. Worse still, these are chosen by Google’s own algorithms, leaving you with little control.
This can be infuriating for visitors because the ads they see could be intrusive or irrelevant to them, negatively impacting their experience and potentially tarnishing your brand's reputation. These ads can be frustrating for you, too, because you've got no way of knowing whether they'll complement your brand and content or actively detract from it.
Secondly, if you do use GCS, your search bar will be Google branded and there's no way to customise the design.
For these reasons and more, we can’t in good faith recommend that you settle for GCS. It may be free to use, but it costs plenty in terms of control and its over-reliance on advertising.
There are several cloud-based site search solutions out there that may be right for your business. The two most popular are Amazon’s CloudSearch and Microsoft’s Azure Search, both of which are extensions of the tech giants’ broader cloud services.
The major benefit of cloud-based solutions is that they’re scalable, meaning they have the capacity to grow as your business grows. Both solutions offer AI-powered search suggestions, auto-correction, and support for multiple languages.
However, cloud-based site search services are hard to recommend to small-to-medium sized businesses – which made up a major portion of GSS's user base – primarily due to the high cost of upkeep and technical know-how required to keep everything running smoothly.
Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions
For most businesses, investing in a SaaS solution is the smartest alternative to using Google Site Search. These services essentially give you all the benefits of an expensive cloud-based solution without any of leg-work and hassle involved with the set-up.
Here’s our pick of a few of the best:
Swiftype has garnered a reputation as one of the best site search solutions available, thanks to its adoption by some big brands like Samsung, TechCrunch, and AOL.
Swiftype is easy to get up-and-running and it's deep analytics dashboard allows their customers to see exactly what is being searched and by whom.
However, their admirable reputation brings with it a hefty price tag – their cheapest package is almost double the price of other options. When you boil Swiftype down to its features, you’re not getting much more for that extra cash either. Sure, it can handle autocomplete, faceted search, and spellchecking, but so can many other, more reasonably priced, solutions.
Algolia is another popular choice. It features search personalization, comprehensive merchandising tools, and access to powerful analytics. Algolia prides itself on providing particularly good results for media companies and video-hosting services like Discovery, Twitch, and NPR.
It's not without flaws though. Algolia is a rather technical solution and would require an expert developer to get up-and-running. They'd also need to make periodical adjustments to ensure your search continues to get the results you desire.
Their pricing is rather nebulous too. On their website, you can estimate the cost of using their 'essential' plan, but this estimation is vague and based on the number of records on your site and the number of indexing operations Algolia will have to undertake. It's all a bit confusing.
And we haven't mentioned that the plan they describe as offering the 'best value' starts at a whopping at $3,499 a month.
If your an enterprise level business with a team of developers on stand-by to get your site-search off the ground, Algolia is an excellent choice. Having said that, if you have these resources, perhaps you'd be better off investing in a cloud-based service.
Site Search 360
It might be slightly cheeky to include our own site search solution in this list, but allow us to justify why we think it’s worth a spot.
Firstly, Site Search 360 offers complete CSS customization. From colours, to animations and branding – your customers will never know they’re using a third-party search solution (you can see for yourself with our search designer tool).
Additionally, Site Search 360 is smart. Really smart. Our semantic search tool allows your site’s visitors to find what they want, not just what they type, thanks to our advanced synonym and hypernym recognition technology.
We’re also proud to offer a broad range of solutions to suit any budget or business, even providing a free option which may be perfect for small companies and blogs. You won’t get that from our competitors.
What's the best alternative for my business?
The answer to this question depends on the size of your business and the current infrastructure you have in place.
Larger companies with substantial budgets may be best-off investing in a cloud-based solution. Microsoft Azure is a particularly good option for big businesses already heavily invested in Microsoft's cloud services.
For small-to-medium sized companies and websites, SaaS solutions are almost certainly the way to go. Alongside Swiftype and Site Search 360, there are many more site search services cropping up as businesses scramble for GSS substitutes.
Deciding between them takes time, research, and careful consideration of your business needs. We recommend taking advantage of the many free trials available so you can see for yourself which Google Site Search alternative is right for your organization.