The Retirement of Google Site Search: An Advertiser’s Survival Guide
If you’re one of the thousands of sites using Google Site Search (GSS), you may have heard that Google is retiring the product later this year, and you’re likely wondering what’s happening to your in-site search tool.
Short answer: it’s being replaced with Custom Search Engine (CSE), and you’re being opted into the new tool come April 1, 2018. This change has sparked the attention of the SEO and SEM communities alike, and there are definite pros and cons to this change for both sites and advertisers.
The Old Google Site Search
In-site search purely organic
Currently, sites can pay $100 a month to have a white-labeled in-site search function that allows users to search for content within their domain. No ads are served in these results and users have no idea Google is behind the search function of their favorite sites.
Additionally, advertisers who opt to advertise on the search partner network give up the ability to select specific placements, because they know the search partner network consists of a well curated network of content providers who opt into hosting Google search results.
What’s coming soon
In-site search will include ads
In the future, sites will no longer have the freedom to pay $100 per month for ad-free site search powered by Google. If they wish to continue using the Google solution, they will have an “ad-powered” in-site tool, that is branded by Google.
The search partner network will now represent a mixture of ecommerce and content oriented sites. Picking specific placements is still not available in AdWords (in Bing you’ve always been able to bid up, or exclude placements).
This is a pretty big deal – site owners are going to have to choose between a search experience that could drive users off their site via ads, or migrating to a new site search solution. There are pros and cons to both options, and advertisers need to pay attention so they know how to engage with Search Partner Network.
Staying with Google’s Custom Search Engine – The Pros
One of the biggest advantages to staying with CSE is how easy it is to use. CSE is designed to be a seamless way for websites to serve up content. It also clocks in at the very affordable “free” price.
As an advertiser, there’s a delicious victory in appearing on a competitor’s site and stealing away their traffic as the consumer was attempting to search for a product. This change opens the floodgates for all kinds of competitive sabotage, and requires no more thought than opting advertising spend into the search partner network.
The search partner network stands to increase overall market share. Traditionally, the search partner network has been mostly premium content sites (name-brand media and blogs). Auto-opting into ecommerce sites will add a more transactional flavor to the search partner network.
Staying with Custom Search Engine – The Cons
While it’s nice that you’ll be able to show up on competitor sites and steal their traffic, they’ll have the same access. By staying with CSE, you are opting into the very real possibility that competitor products will outrank your own and steal customers away.
There is no more white-labeling, which means the seamless brand experience is gone. It will be very clear Google is powering search on your site. Depending on your brand, this may cheapen the experience.
Last quarter, WordStream customers saw an average CTR of 2.91% (including all networks). With the increase in possible Search Partner Network impressions, there is an inherent risk that the quality will diminish. While it’s possible this change will mean more qualified impressions, it is equally possible budget will be diverted from the transactional Google SERP, to these third-party SERPs.
The good news is this change won’t be fully rolled out till April 2018. There’s time to decide if the pros of having an easy in-site search tool outweigh the cons. Should you decide you want to switch, there’s a few options:
Switch to a different in-site search provider
If potential competitors on your domain is a deal breaker, there’s plenty of time to switch providers. While there will be inherent costs (site downtime, development efforts, and the subscription fee), brand security is worth every penny.
Keep CSE and set up an AdSense account
Ads might be coming to your in-site search, and you can absolutely profit from it. AdSense can be profitable for high-traffic sites, and if you stay with CSE, you will be eligible to set up an AdSense account to profit off the ads in your in-site search.
AdSense is paid out based off of CPM (cost per thousand impressions). While there are stories of sites “hitting it big” with AdSense, most folks see somewhere between $1-$5 a day. It’s helpful to call out that your site is supported by ads, so your customers/prospects aren’t caught unaware by the sudden appearance of ads in your in-site search.
Advertiser Tests: Turn off Search Partner Networks if you have been running it
If you’ve kept Search Partners active, consider a two- to four-week test of turning it off in your campaigns. If you see click-through rate (CTR) pick up, or the cost of your clicks go down, it’s a sign that the search partner network might not be for you anymore. If you see drop-offs, we may want to continue to capitalize on the search partner network.
Advertiser tests: Turn on Search Partner Networks in Q3/Q4
By the summer, enough folks will have rolled over to CSE that it would be worthwhile to test the new Search Partner Network market. Consider a 2-4 week test if your account is established (3-6 months old), or a longer test if your account is on the younger side (1-2 months). The goal should be a decrease in your average CPC, and conversions that wouldn’t have otherwise happened. If this doesn’t happen, Search Partner Network can be excluded again.
Are you excited about the change? Nervous? Tell us in the comments!
Average CTR figure is based on a sample of 2,708 WordStream client accounts across all verticals advertising between January 1 and March 31 2017. All campaigns included had search and search partner network enabled during this time.