A Quick Intro to Google Custom Search Engine Definition Files

In Search Engine Powered Courses…, I took an initial, baby step to demonstrate one way in which a promoted link might be used be within a course specific custom search engine. In the next post in this series, I will describe how to influence the positioning of results within a Google custom search engine by boosting their ranking, as well as how results may be ‘faceted’ into different results sets through the use of labels.

In this post, I thought it would be worth taking a step back and reviewing the three configuration files we have access to when defining a Google custom search engine: the configuration file, the promotions file, and the annotations file. If you create a minimal Google custom search engine using the CSE management tools, and then go to the Advanced page, you will see options that allow you to upload the configuration and annotations file. The promotions file can be imported via the Promotions page.

So what do each of these file do?

  • The configuration file defines the top level configuration of the search engine. The easiest way of obtaining a template for a CSE is to create a minimal search engine using the CSE management tools, and then export the configuration file from the Advanced page. The configuration file defines, among other things: whether the search engine will search over the whole web, prioritising (or ‘BOOSTing’) sites and pages indexed explicitly by the CSE, or whether it will just return resuts from the explicilty indexed pages (a FILTER style search engine); a definition of the labels, or facets, that allow different search refinements to be applied as different search strategy contexts within the CSE; some styling information; and information relating to Subscribed Links (more of them in another post, if they’re still supported by then..)..
  • The promotions file allows you do define promoted links within a CSE; in Search Engine Powered Courses…, I give an example of how these might be used in a course search engine.
  • The annotations file identifies the sites and pages that are specific members of the CSE index, as well as how they should be handled (eg the extent to which they should be positively or negatively boosted in the search engine results listing, whether they should appear in the top few results, and what labels or facets should apply to them).

It’s also possible to customise the styling/presentation of the search engine, but that’s a shiny, shiny feature, so probably not something I’ll be looking at…

PS I just noticed you can now manage Google Analytics settings for custom search engines (which allows you to log search queries) from within the CSE control panel… I’m still not sure how easy it is to track which results get clicked through, though?