Google Custom Search (CSE) – All Features with Pros and Cons

Google Custom Search is a powerful custom search tool developed by Google, that allows webmasters to add a smart, customizable and feature-loaded search bar to their websites. In this article, I will discuss all the features of the Google Custom Search Engine.

Google Custom Search

Now that Google Site Search (GSS) has been discontinued, the only alternative Google product left that serves the same facility, is Google Custom Search Engine (CSE).

The best of all, you can use the Custom Search tool for free with ads linked to your AdSense account.

Thus, now the question is, how well does this free (with ads) tool from Google stand against its competitions and how efficient is it in its task?

Read this article carefully to get the answers to all your queries regarding the Google Custom Search tool.

I’ll be discussing the pros and cons of Google Custom Search and will be sharing what do I think about this tool by Google.

Before we begin with what are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Google Custom Search Engine, let’s have a look at the pricing (no ads version) of the tool if one wants to use it without ads.

Google Custom Search Pricing

Pros of Google Custom Search

The Google Custom Search Engine comes with a handful of amazing features. They are sure to keep your visitors impressed and also increase the traffic revenue through its search monetization feature.

Learn more about the monetization feature of Google Custom Search in the second point of this list.

Autocomplete Suggestions

Google Custom Search Autocomplete

Similar to the autocomplete feature of the actual Google search engine, this tool shows the users some relevant suggestions in real-time while they type.

That is, typing just a few characters in the search box brings up a drop-down list that provides for similar search queries.

For example, if you have an article named “Positive sides of waking up early”, and your visitor types in the search bar “Positive sides”, the CSE tool will then auto-complete the query and show the relevant suggestion to the user, thus saving a lot of time for the user.

Although, it is to be noted that after enabling the autocomplete feature from the control panel, it can take up to 2 to 4 days for autocomplete to start working on your site.

Another great addition to the auto-complete feature is that it gives you the option to manually add or remove some auto-completions.

Here’s a list of those options : –  

  • Included: Here you can add some custom auto-completion that would show up if they match with a user’s search query. You can also set a value between 0 to 10,000 to rank your custom auto-completions. The higher the rank, the greater would be the priority of that custom auto-completion to show up.
  • Excluded: Here you can add some exclusions that you don’t ever want to be suggested to the users, even if it matches their search queries.
  • Excluded Patterns: You can use regular expressions to exclude the auto-completion that match a certain pattern.

It is to be noted that a maximum of 20,000 of these rules can be applied.


Google Custom Search Ads

In the free version of this tool (excluding Non-Profit organisations) contextually relevant ads are shown when the user searches your site using this tool.

The good thing is that you can connect it to your AdSense account and thus, earn some extra revenue from those ads. You can link your search engine to your Google Adsense account from here.

If you don’t want ads to appear at all, register your site as a non-profit form here.

Less Load On Your Sever

If you’re on a self hosted website or blog, using the server optimally and making sure that the server gets as less load as possible, is extremely important.

By installing Google Custom Search on your site, all the search queries that your site gets, shall be processed in Google’s servers. This shall not only decrease the load on your website’s server, but will also increase the speed at which the search results are displayed on your website, to a great extent.

Tons of Customization

After the autocomplete feature, this is the second best feature of this tool.

Each and every element of this tool can be customized by the webmaster using the user-friendly interface provided by Google.  

There’s even the option to remove the Google branding logo from the search bar, available in both, the paid version and as well as the free version, but not in the non-profit organization version.

Here are the things that you can customize to give the search bar a look of your own :

(Link to detailed step by step instructions on how to customize the look and feel, is given below.)

Customize The Search Interface

You can customize the layout of your search tool in the following ways :

Google Custom Search Search Interface

You can place the search box and the results section on the same page, or display them in separate columns or you may even display the results section on another page hosted by Google.

Change The Background Colour

You can change the background colour for the entire search results page to match the colour theme of your website.  

The Individual Results

Google Custom Seach Individual Results
[Source :]

You can visually delineate individual results or highlight individual results on mouseover. You can also change the colour of the individual results as shown below :

Google Custom Search Individual Results Customized

Image Search Layout

You may choose the format you prefer for results of image search done using the tool. (You can also turn off image search.)

Google Custom Search Image Search Layout

Font Style in Search Results

The font style in the search results can also be changed by choosing from a drop-down menu.

Text Colour in Search Results

You can change the following text colours in the search results :

Title Text Colours  

  • Link Colour – The title colour of the search result.
  • Visited Colour – The title colour after it had been clicked by the user.
  • Hover Colour – The title colour when the user hovers the mouse over it.
  • Active Colour – The title colour when the user clicks on the link.

Snippet Text Colour

The colour of the short description below the title.  

URL Text Colour

The colour of the URL text at the bottom of each individual result.  

The Refinement Tabs

If you create refinement labels in your search engine, you can customize the following:-  

The tab in a normal state –

  • Border Colour – Colour of the border around the tabs that are not selected.
  • Background Colour – The colour of the background of the tab that is currently not selected.

The tab in the selected state –

  • Border Colour – Colour of the border around the selected tab.
  • Background Colour – The colour of the background of the selected tab.


The following elements in the promotions tab can be changed –

Title Text Colours  

  • Link Colour – The title colour of the search result.
  • Visited Colour – The title colour after it had been clicked by the user.
  • Hover Colour – The title colour when the user hovers the mouse over it.
  • Active Colour – The title colour when the user clicks on the link.
  • Snippet Text Colour: The colour of the short description below the title.
  • URL text colour: The colour of the URL text at the bottom of each individual results.

Promotion Styling

  • Border Colour – Colour of the border around the promotional results.
  • Background Colour – The colour of the background of the space where the promotional content is displayed.

You can not only remove the Google branding from the search bar (except for non-profit organizations’ free version) but also add your own brand’s logo along with a link attached to it!

Various Templates

There are some standard predefined templates available with various colour settings, in case you are too lazy to customize the look and feel yourself! 

These are the available templates : 

Google Custom Search Templates

Note: Advanced users may check out the Custom Search Element API 2.0 here.

Those were the customization options available to design the look and feel of the search tool on your website. Now back to the other features of this tool.


Everyone makes typos while typing fast, isn’t it?

Well, Google Custom Search has got you covered. It automatically detects possible typos and provides a relevant alternative search term in its place.  

Google Custom Search Autocorrect

Multiple Admins 

You can add multiple admin accounts to collaborate on your search engine by simply inviting them using their e-mail addresses connected to their Google accounts.

A maximum of 200 admins can be added for the management of a search engine who would be able to view and edit almost any data associated with the search engine but they won’t be able to perform the following tasks :

  • Delete the search engine.
  • Add or remove admins.
  • Access the annotation upload/download option.
  • Access the ads tab.

Note: Link to a detailed article explaining the process of setting up all the above-mentioned configurations is given at the end of this article.


Although the Google CSE dashboard gives only some basic analytic details such as the volume of queries and popular queries, it is very easy to connect Google CSE with Google Analytics, thus enabling highly in-depth analytical reporting.  

Custom Ranking

Suppose you compile a list of a few sites based on a certain keyword but when you test out some queries using the search tool, you may see that in the search results, those articles that you preferred the most do not rank at the top.

Well, guess what? You can even control the ranking of the various search results in the Google Custom Search tool.

The ranking of the search results can be tuned by three means : 


It is a quick way of boosting certain web pages in your search results and getting more search results about a particular subject.

It basically enables you to explain the search engine what the user actually intends to search for. 

For example, if yours is a Yoga site and the user searches for “mat”, what he could possibly mean by that is a “yoga mat”, but it will surely be difficult for the search engine to know the intention of the user, whether to display results for “MAT- Miller Analogy Test” or “Yoga mat”.

You can easily get rid of this problem by setting up some keywords to help the search engine better understand the user’s intention.

Example With Custom Keyword Disabled

Google Custom Search Custom Ranking : Keyword Off

Example With Custom Keyword Enabled

Google Custom Search Custom Ranking : Keyword On

Weighted Labels

They tell the custom search whether to exclude, promote or demote a site depending on the weights that you apply to the labels.


These are applied to individual annotations to temper or reverse the influence of the weighted labels.  

[Link to a detailed article covering the configuration guide for this feature is provided at the end of this article.]    

Option To Enable Topical Engine 

A topical search engine is one which particular topic rather than an individual website. It may be set to crawl and display results from the whole web, about that particular topic.

With Google Custom Search tool, you can set your search tool to perform those types of searches too.  

Easy Configuration And Installation

Google Custom Search is very easy to configure, customize and finally set it up on your website.

Almost every basic setting can be configured using a simple GUI interface.

For configuration of the advanced settings, links to comprehensive guides for configuring all the features mentioned above, have been provided at the end of this article.

Well, those were the Benefits of the Google Custom Search Engine that I loved about the Google Custom Search Engine, now let’s have a look at some drawbacks of this tool.

Cons of Google Custom Search

Slow Indexing

It takes some time for the Custom Search Engine to index your articles.

Thus, every time you post a new article, CSE will take a few hours to index it, before it is ready to be searched.

But this shouldn’t be a problem unless yours is a news site, which requires instant indexing.  

No Dedicated Customer Support for Free

Just like any other free service, it lacks quality customer support.

But one can easily lookup solutions to any possible problem they might face using this, through a simple web search.

Competitors’ Ads Maybe Displayed Sometimes

It is a big problem that sometimes your competitors’ ads might be displayed at the top of the search results, which might cause to redirect traffic from your site to theirs.

But no worries here’s a simple way to block all the competitor ads from being displayed on your custom search engine and as well as your site:- Learn how to block competitor Ads in Google Custom Search.

Those were the three things that I had to put in the ‘cons’ list.

My Final Thought

Google Custom Search (CSE) - All Features with Pros and Cons

I definitely recommend my readers who run websites on WordPress, Blogger or any other platform, to check out the Google Custom Search (CSE) Tool for their website.

Application Category: Custom Search Tool

Editor's Rating:

Link to detailed instructions on the above-mentioned features (find your required option from the left menu bar) – (Link)

Tired of slow indexing of your site by Google? Learn How To Get Your Site Indexed By Google Instantly

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Good day!

What do you think?

Written by Anirban Roy

Anirban is a full-stack developer and an SEO expert. He has 6 years of experience in web development and software engineering. With a passion for writing, he has been blogging since 2017.

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  1. Great article! Thanks a lot for writing such an in-depth article on Google Custom Search Engine. I really appreciate it. I have been planning to start blogging and I had also learnt about some smart search tools that can be embedded to one's site to help users find what they want easily. But most of them were paid services and I don't have sufficient money to invest in those. Thus, I came across Google Custom Search Search Engine and I started looking for reviews on it to understand its features. I found your article today and I am amazed by your in-depth explanation! Again, thanks a lot for providing such an in-depth article. This is the best review of the Google Custom Search Engine that I have found online! ?

  2. Can't I disable the ads if my site isn't a non-profit organisation? If not, what's the best alternative to Google CSE that serves the same features and works equally well?
    (Great article, by the way!!)

  3. Hello, thank you for the detailed article. I’m looking to implement a search engine for my Knowledge Database to make searching for Knowledge articles easier for my customers. Of course, the search functionality must be restricted to our companies Knowledge base articles only. Would you recommend Custom Search JSON API?

    • Hi Natalia,
      Yes, I would recommend you to use the Google Custom Search for your knowledge database website. You can easily set the GCS to show results of your database only. You can also put your company’s logo in it for branding.
      Sure there are some pretty great competitors as well such as site search 360, but you cannot compare them with the performance, stability and reliability of GCS.
      If you have a developer team, go for GCS!
      But if you’re a non-tech person, then you may consider some easier to use alternatives like site search 360. But those alternatives would require you to pay them in order for you to use the more advanced features and to use your own brand’s logo. Hope this helps!