Google Custom Search Rolls Out Themes, Improved Support For Structured Data, And More

Google has just announced the release of a handful of major new features for its Google Custom Search products, including a new set of themes, improved use of rich snippets in custom search, and a new Wikipedia search. The announcements aren’t especially related, but they’ll be welcome news to the millions of sites that have deployed Custom Search.

For those that don’t know it, Wikipedia’s search is powered by Google Custom Search behind the scenes. Update: Google says that Custom search is actually only used if you install the Google Custom search skin. The new Wikipedia skin that they’re launching today is quite slick — it’s inline so you won’t have to leave the page, and it allows you to restrict your search to pages that are linked to from whatever Wikipedia entry you’re reading. This means that while you’re reading a page on the NBA, you’ll be able to do a search for “rockets” and your first match under the “Linked Wikipedia Pages” tab will be for the Houston Rockets, rather than matches from the more explosive use of the word. The only downside to the new search is that it’s a pain to set up: you have to create a Wikipedia account if you don’t have one, and then you have to slightly modify a JavaScript file in your Appearance settings. It’s quite simple and the walkthrough spells it out for you, but it keeps it out of the hands of more casual users.

The next major annoucement is improved support for structured data in search results. Custom Search can take advantage of formats including RDFa, PageMaps, and Microformats. You’ll now be able to incorporate thumbnails and specific actions — say, purchasing an item directly from a result — using this metadata. There’s also support for structured search, which allows users to finetune their queries using tags (for example, I could restrict my search to a specific author, assuming the site I was searching had a metatag that specified who wrote their articles).

Finally, today Custom Search is also rolling out a new set of customizable templates, which let users easily specify how their search results should appear on the page with respect to both layout and theme. There’s also a feature that will allow site owners to automatically redirect mobile users to a site that’s been optomized for smartphones.