What is Google Custom Search a Summary for Parents and Educators: Filters, Blocking, Costs, and Why and How to Use CSE

Out of 10 sites listed as kid-friendly and kid-safe search sites, there are 9 that use Google Custom Search. Understanding Google Custom Search might influence our perceptions of kid-friendly and kid-safe search websites.


Out of the 10 sites listed as search sites in my article on kid-friendly and kid-safe search sites, there are 9 that use Google Custom Search and one that does not. It seems appropriate to post an article about what Google Custom Search is and how it works. This understanding might influence our perceptions of Kid-friendly and kid-safe search websites that use Google Custom Search.

Let’s consider what Google Custom Search is in basic terms. Google is the largest search engine in the world today by a HUGE margin. Research shows that more than 90% of all internet searches are performed by Google or one of its subsidiaries. Those numbers include image searches. The next closest competitor has less than 10% of the market, in fact, second, third and fourth place on the list belongs to Yahoo! (2.4% of search traffic), Amazon (2.3% of search traffic), and Bing (Microsoft) (2.2% of search traffic). That means Google performs over 37 times the number of searches that its nearest competitor (Yahoo!) performs.


The questions I will address in this post are:

  • What is Google Custom Search?
  • Who can use Google Custom Search?
  • What about advertisements and Google Custom Search?
  • Common uses of Google Custom Search

What is Google Custom Search?

Google Custom Search is a capability that Google has created and made available, based on its incredibly powerful search capabilities, that allow anyone to create a custom search engine. There are powerful ways in which the search engine you create can be customized. You must have a Google account and you have to agree to the terms and conditions.

Here is the explanation from Google about what Custom Search is (my comments are added in parenthesis, bolded, and in italics, like this):

What Is Custom Search?

Google Custom Search enables you to create a search engine for your website, your blog, or a collection of websites. Users can configure the search engine to search both web pages and images. They can fine-tune the ranking, customize the look and feel of the search results, and invite your friends or trusted users to help you build your custom search engine. The website can even make money from your search engine by using your Google AdSense account.

There are two main use cases for Custom Search – you can create a search engine that searches only the contents of one website (site search), or you can create one that focuses on a particular topic from multiple sites (This is the use case for the kid-friendly and kid-safe websites). You can use your expertise about a subject to tell Custom Search which websites to search, prioritize, or ignore. Since you know your users well, you can tailor the search engine to their interests. (Again, I think you can see how this could be used for kid-friendly and kid-safe search sites).

With Google Custom Search, you can:

  • Create custom search engines that search across a specified collection of sites or pages (this means you could manually curate the pages you want to be included in your search)
  • Enable image search for your site
  • Customize the look and feel of search results, including adding search-as-you-type autocompletions
  • Add promotions to your search results
  • Leverage structured data on your site to customize search results
  • Associate your search engine with your Google AdSense account, so you make money whenever users click ads on your search results pages. (this would be a way of offsetting the cost of using either of the integrated options listed below that cost $5/1000 searches. It might possibly generate revenue beyond those expenses.)

Form the Google Custom Search Getting Started webpage there are a couple of additional reasons they cite for using Google Custom Search that I think are pertinent:

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the concept of advertisements or user tracking in Googles Custom Search. You may have some concern about agreeing to let advertisers have access to your children or allowing Google to track their online activity through Google Analytics. I have some concerns about those concepts myself.  For now, I just want to be clear that these capabilities are part of the services being used when Google Custom Search is the engine behind the search.

Who can create a Google Custom Search engine?

Anyone. Literally anyone can create a new Custom Search Engine as I did in just a couple of minutes. You need a Google account login and you have to agree to the terms and conditions in the fine print. Then you can customize your search engine with your specific parameters. There are a number of possible settings for your search engine. Among the more interesting and relevant settings for our discussion, are these:

  • SafeSearch  (Yes/No) – Google describes this feature with: “You can configure your Custom Search Engine to use Google’s SafeSearch technology to filter explicit search and image results.” I describe SafeSearch in a related article found Here. SafeSearch is Google’s effort at filtering and blocking of sexually explicit content. It can be turned on in a custom search engine and also using a Google Family Account or in the Chrome browser.
  • Image Search (Yes/No) – which tells Google whether you want to include images as part of your search results. If you have SafeSearch turned on the logic for excluding sexually explicit content will apply to images as well.
  • Sites to Search (List of sites) – You can provide a list of websites that will be included as resources for your search results. All other websites will be excluded from your results unless you turn on the next option “Search the entire web”. There is also a list of sites to specifically exclude. The sites to exclude will only be relevant if you choose the next option to “Search the entire web”.
  • Search the entire web  (Yes/No) – According to Google this will “Augment your results with general Web Search results.” I believe Google will search the sites you listed and place those results at the top of the results that are returned in the search (after any advertisements). Then if you have elected to search the entire web it will augment your results with results from other sites on the internet outside of your “Sites to Search” list.

What about advertisements and Google Custom Search?

If you use the free version of Google Custom Search then advertisements will be part of the search results that are returned from Google. You agree in the terms and conditions to display back to the user the information received from Google exactly as it is received including any ads. You can generate a revenue stream from ads displayed on your custom search site that users click on. There is an exception around the requirement for ads for certain organization types. “Nonprofit organizations, Accredited Educational institutions, and government agencies may qualify for a free version of Custom Search Engine without ads.”

Google Custom Search Plan Options:

Common Uses of Google Custom Search

Probably the most common use of Google Custom Search is when a particular website uses it to have Google search capabilities for only the content they have created. This allows visitors to their website to search all of their specific content in a very thorough manner just like Google itself allows each of us to search the entire internet in a thorough manner looking for that one critical piece of information.

I can’t be sure because it is not labeled as such, but it appears that www.WebMD.com uses this type of search feature. You can go to their website and enter search terms in their search bar and it returns expected results. When I enter “acne” it returns first, 3 advertisements. Next was a featured article from WebMD followed by another 7 relevant articles from WebMD. Then images of acne were next in the results followed by alternating blocks of WebMD articles and advertisements. Based on looking quickly at the code behind the webpage (viewing the page source) it seems fairly obvious that Google is the search engine behind the results. Based on that it seems to me fairly clear that WebMD is using a form of Google Custom Search.

A secondary use would be websites that want to filter the results of a search across a number of other websites or that want to search the entire web but want to exclude certain websites or use SafeSearch to exclude sexually explicit content. This is where the websites that tout themselves as kid-safe and kid-friendly come into the picture.

Based on my research here are the scenarios that can come into play for these websites:

  • If an organization is a non-profit, accredited educational institution or government agency there is available a free version of Google Custom Search without advertisements. Other than those 3 exceptions you have to allow ads or pay a fee per 1000 searches to have Google eliminate advertisements from the search results.
  • If an organization is willing to tolerate Google advertisements as part of its search results, the service is free since this offers Google the opportunity to generate revenue. Under this option, Google branding is listed as “optional”. There is no daily limits on the number of queries that can be requested. It is also possible for the organization that chooses this option to set up an account with Google through their advertising company called AdSense where the site can actually earn the website revenue based on the number of ads their visitors click on. Getting paid for ads is not automatic and not required.
  • The third option is one of the paid options. They are the same in terms of cost but the interaction with Google to obtain the search results is different with each option. The cost is $5 per 1,000 queries executed.

In my article on kid-friendly and kid-safe search sites, this division is clearly spelled out in terms of who is and is not using Google Custom Search and whether they are allowing advertisements or not.

About the Author

Terry has been an entrepreneur in the IT industry for over30 years. Go here to read his complete personal story, “Husband, father, Grandfather and IT Executive.” If you want to send Terry a quick message visit the contact page Here.

If you would like to receive weekly email updates about how to talk to, monitor, and control your child’s digital experience, please join our mailing list below.

Terry Preece

Terry Preece

Husband, Father, Grandfather, and IT Executive

Scroll to Top


Receive updates at a non-annoying pace...

GreatCIty Logo Boy only Transparent