Create a Google Custom Search Engine for Your Research

Ryan Dube 05-10-2010

No matter what topic you are interested in, Google can only go so far in providing you with the search results that you need. You have to remember that Google is searching through the entire Internet in order to offer you relevant results about your unique topic. The more unique or specialized the topic, the more difficult it is for Google to identify useful sites.


However, within every subject there are usually giant repositories of information – directories or portals where you can find volumes of valuable information about what you’re interested in. Just take a look at your own bookmarks, collected after a few years of exploring the web. Do relevant pages from your favorite sites always come up in Google?

The answer is no. Even if a website features thousands of pages of information related to a topic you’re interested in, if that site isn’t perfectly situated or optimized for Google to find it, then it may never even show up in your normal Google search results at all. However, for years Google has offered the ability for website owners to utilize a Google custom search engine on their own site.

That isn’t news – third party apps have been doing this all along, like Groovle or Search All Craigslist.  What is news is the fact that you can make use of the CSE tool to build your own topical search engine from the ground up. And, if you have friends who are also interested in the same subject, you can make the search engine a collaborative effort.

Create A Google Custom Search Engine In Three Steps

For years, bloggers and website owners have tossed Google’s custom search engine on their sites with the default “full web” enabled and simply used the on-site search field to produce revenue. However, this tool is so much more useful than that. You can completely transform the CSE into your own personal research tool. Even better – you can offer that research tool to your readers.

The three step process is fast – just make sure you have your own web page somewhere where you can embed your final search engine.


google custom search

The important part is “Sites to search.” This is where your specialized knowledge of the subject matter comes into play. Put all of those directories, websites and portals you’ve accumulated into this field. In my case, I’ve stockpiled Freedom Of Information Act reading room sites – and I’m loading up my specialized search engine with those directories.

google custom search engine

You can pretty much customize the search field and results to look however you like, right down to modifying link and text colors, the colors for search controls and everything else (even fonts!)


google custom search engine

That’s it for the basic setup. You now have the start of a specialized search engine that uses Google’s superior website search capabilities combined with your inside knowledge of the best websites for this topic area.

google custom search engine

You’ll notice at the bottom, there’s a whole lot more you can do with this customized search engine. I’ll get to a few of those features below. Here is what my customized search engine looks like on my site.


internet custom search

The results are returned right on the page. The free CSE requires Google ads at the top of results, but for a yearly fee you can remove those. As you can see from the results, the information gathered doesn’t include erroneous results. In my case, I wanted to only search official documents, and that’s exactly what Google has done – returning results that are crawled from those pages only. No garbage, spam sites or erroneous data.

internet custom search

The real power of this tool comes out when you start digging into the settings. You can go into the “Sites” section of the control panel and keep adding more resources – building the strength of your search engine as you discover and save new, relevant sites.


Create a Google Custom Search Engine for Your Research customsearch7

You can also enable the “Promotions” feature, which triggers stand-out listings at the top of the results when people type in certain keywords. So, if there’s a new section of your site about “sports cars” that you really want to promote – you can have your own page at the top for that keyword (or keywords).

internet custom search

The Synonyms feature is also an excellent way to strengthen your customized search engine even more by adding similar words that have the same meaning. In many industries or subjects, there is a certain terminology that Google can’t possibly know. By customizing the synonyms search, you’ll strengthen the power of your search engine even further.

Create a Google Custom Search Engine for Your Research customsearch9

Then of course, there’s the awesome collaboration section. Just enter in an email and a message to your friends how share your common interests, and invite them to join with you in strengthening your search engine with their own research and insight. You can have up to 100 collaborators building your engine with you.

google custom search

In time, your CSE will become known throughout your specific industry or online community as being a valuable resource that returns much better results than the standard Google search engine. A custom search engine is a really powerful and useful tool that you can offer to your visitors to make your website even more valuable.

Have you ever played around with the Google Custom Search Engine? Did you find that it’s effective? Share your insight in the comments section below.

Explore more about: Google Search, Web Search.

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  1. mhawksey
    October 11, 2010 at 6:54 pm

    CSE is a great tool. There is also some great work from Tony Hirst in harvesting links from social network communities to allow you to search for information from people with shared interests (see

    Following the trend to Google Instantise everything you can also make Google Instant a Custom Search Engine

  2. TLW
    October 6, 2010 at 8:19 pm

    Oh. And I couldn't get Google Custom to work on my site. I'm sure that relates to something I did. My mistake is probably staring me right in the face :)

  3. TLW
    October 6, 2010 at 8:17 pm

    Lol. I don't know. That's kinda why I posed the question. Someone once told me that most sites can follow you around via tracking cookies. Those types of cookies are deleted when I shut down close FireFox. I don't know what you can see when I keep MUO open and romp around the web :)

    • Aibek
      October 7, 2010 at 7:08 am

      The cookies merely tell the user's IP address. That IP address can be usually narrowed down to a geographic location (not a specific address, only an area in most cases). That being said, most of the users have dynamic IP addresses that change with every session. To sum up, the only way cookies help publishers like MUO is for traffic stats. For instance, slightly over 50% of MUO users come from US.

  4. TLW
    October 6, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    Ryan, I'm trying this out right this moment. I'm going to keep this article open as I go along. Fascinating stuff Man :)

    Question: Do you Guys know where I am when I keep MUO open while I play elsewhere? I don't care if you are. I'm just the curious sort :)

  5. TLW
    October 6, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    Ryan, I'm trying this out right this moment. I'm going to keep this article open as I go along. Fascinating stuff Man :)

    Question: Do you Guys know where I am when I keep MUO open while I play elsewhere? I don't care if you are. I'm just the curious sort :)

    • Mark O'Neill
      October 6, 2010 at 5:17 pm

      How would we possibly know where you are?

  6. Chris
    October 6, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    I've had a custom search for awhile but haven't figured out how to make the data sortable like a regular google search. Is it possible to set it up so there's a side bar that allows to filter by date?