Google Reaches For The Long Tail Of Corporate Site Search

Mattbrown_3Leslieowens_2By Matthew Brown and Leslie Owens

Today, we heard about several enhancements to a SaaS-based corporate site search offering from the folks over at Google Enterprise. This relatively unknown offering started as "Google Custom Search," was renamed "Custom Search Business Edition" in July of 2007, now sports the name "Google Site Search," and claims to have thousands of paying customers. Fully hosted at Google, the service lets Web site managers sign up, configure a crawl, customize the interface, bias how results are returned, and start searching at the low, low entry price of $100/year. Clearly, this service is a mere infant, relative to its mature enterprise search platform cousins, but this announcement is unsurprisingly consistent with Google's efforts to tap demand within the long tail of enterprise search buyers. Below are some questions we’ve received since this announcement:

Question: How much of an improvement are the new features - enhanced indexing and the ability to date bias searchable content - represent for business Web sites that are seeking search?

Forrester's take: Enhanced indexing, synonyms, date biasing, and top results biasing are necessary, but incremental, improvements to Google Site Search. Features like date biasing are very helpful when you want to prioritize time-sensitive content, like press releases or news content, over general "brochure-ware" pages on a corporate Web site. The Google Site Search product still lacks other features corporate site owners want, like the ability to push new content into the index as it is published and/or modify content crawling schedules so that new content can quickly be made available through the search function. But this release is definitely a step in the right direction.

We're also encouraged by the addition of "refinement categories" that let search-administrators specify URL patterns that can be presented as categories above the results to help searchers find their way to important content. And the online reporting capabilities for analyzing frequently searched terms are a real plus. Most significant is the zero-footprint implementation they get by being SaaS-based, which results in a $100/year price point for up to 5000 pages. This offering will be highly valuable to corporate Web site owners who don’t have boat-loads of cash or IT skills to buy and implement on-premise search solutions. Currently, many of these folks rely on the lousy search that comes embedded on their Web server. Just try the search function on the majority of corporate Web sites out there today and you'll quickly realize there is a massive opportunity to improve the quality of search.

Question: Do you think there will be wariness out there about the cloud-computing aspects of site search?

Forrester's take: Yes, of course there will continue to be wariness about the cloud-computing aspects of site search - especially among companies that like to make money online. Google has a lot of work to do to build awareness around what it is offering and to dispel people’s concerns that it is solely in the business of monetizing other people’s content through search advertising. Google is walking a very fine line in this regard.

For example, Google released a feature earlier this year on Google.com called “search-within-search” that lets users search the contents of a specific corporate Web site without ever leaving Google.com (this still works if you enter "Microsoft," "Cisco," "New York Times," or many other company names, into the Google.com search bar and then look at the search bar in the first result). If I’m a corporate Web site owner, I don’t like this one bit because I invest a lot of time (and money) in attracting people to my Web site, making my Web site easier to use, and hopefully, making it more profitable for my company. Essentially, search-within-search lets users dig deep into your Web site without ever visiting your site. This can be especially problematic for companies running advertisements on their corporate sites, but it also impacts any company investing in an overall brand experience via its Web site. If Google adds advertisements next to "search-within-search" results (to our knowledge it hasn't yet done so), corporate Web site owners will have to choose between letting Google monetize, monetizing the content themselves, or sharing the take with Google.

Long term, without broader awareness and better transparency into exactly what Google does with the corporate site information it indexes, Google will continue to face a real identity crisis between whether it's advocating for the corporate site search buyer, or it's just trying to print more money from other people's content. Near term, information and knowledge management pros looking at basic site search would be remiss not to at least try this offering. After all, a single cab ride to the airport can cost more than using Google Site Search for a year.

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