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Building a Better Search Engine
By Josh Poje

According to a recent Google estimate, the web now includes more than 1 trillion pages. That staggering number underlines the necessity of effective search engines: without them, the web would be useless. Users simply wouldn't be able to find the information they need in a reasonable amount of time.

Even the best search engines, however, can cause frustration. For example, an attorney trying to find county fees for Lake County, Oregon might be frustrated when the search engine returns results from Lake County, Illinois. Likewise, an attorney researching a particular legal question may end up digging through page after page of results to find the resources from the appropriate jurisdiction.

Though attorneys can minimize some of these frustrations by learning search tricks or mastering a search engine's "advanced" search tools, bar associations around the country have an opportunity to offer their members an easier and more elegant solution - without spending a dime. That solution is a custom search engine tailored to the members needs, built using Google's Custom Search Engine tool.

Here's how it's done:

STEP 1: To create a Google Custom Search Engine ("CSE"), you'll need a Google account. If you're already using one of Google's many services - like Gmail or iGoogle - you should have an account. If not, you can sign up for one at no charge (and get access to many other useful, free Google resources in the process).

STEP 2: Once you have a Google account, navigate to the Google CSE page. Click the "Create a Custom Search Engine" button to get started. (If you haven't logged in yet, it'll ask you to do so at this point.)

STEP 3: Fill out the CSE set up form. The entire form can be completed in a few minutes. Simply fill in all fields and include a list of the sites you'd like to search. You can limit the search to those sites or search the whole web and emphasize the sites you listed. Finally, select your edition (note: nonprofits can go ad-free) and click "Next."

STEP 4: You'll now be able to test your search out to get a feel for the results. Don't worry if it isn't perfect yet; you can always go back to the Google CSE page and adjust the settings, appearance, or even check statistics to see how the search is being used.

STEP 5: Use it! Your new Google CSE is accessible as a standalone page - not unlike visiting www.google.com - but it can also be inserted into existing pages, allowing members to use the CSE right from the association's website. Finally, the CSE can be embedded as a "widget" on blogs, websites, and even iGoogle homepages.

A carefully crafted Google Custom Search Engine could be a valuable resource for your members, whether it's built to target research sources in a particular geographic area, jurisdiction, or practice area. Best of all, you can provide it to your members at no cost and with minimal effort.

Bar Association Example: Want to see how the ABA's Legal Technology Resource Center used Google Custom Search Engine? Visit our home page and scroll to the bottom to check it out.