The Art of Building a Google Custom Search Engine – Part 1

In my constant exploration of sites to pull information from, it’s easy to get lost in the syntax and forget how to properly site search each and every database I come across. I’ve gotten in the habit of building Custom Search Engines to help keep all the different variations straight. Over the last year, I’ve learned of several ways to build such CSEs, and in this three-part series, we explore how to do so. In this first entry, we’ll focus on a singular site search (or xray).

Getting Started:

First, you’ll need to log into a Gmail account and go here to get started:

Click on “New Search Engine” up at the top of the page.

Next, you’ll need to enter the site(s) you want to search. For instance, let’s build a CSE to search You have some options listed below, but I want to search the entire domain and the entire site of Manta, so add the following code shown in the screenshot. You’ll need to name your CSE as well (toward the bottom of the screen).




Hit the “CREATE” Button and you’ll move to the next screen.

NOTE: Some sites require less fancy syntax. Just remember to start with *. and end with /* to look for everything on one specific site.

Turn on your CSE by clicking “Public URL” (under Details) and switching to “ON.” Your public URL is going to be your link to the search engine. You may want to copy this for future reference.



Note: You can also return to your list of CSEs by clicking the “Custom Search” at the top of the page. I sometimes get lost in my own CSE.

You can also adjust the cosmetic look and feel of your CSE through the corresponding menu:

Edit Search Engine then Look and Feel

However, let’s create search tabs to give our search engine some different focus. You’ll need to go into “Search Options” and add a “Refinement.” You can follow this pathway to add a refinement:

Edit Search Engine, then Search Features, then Refinements


Basically, a refinement is an extension of your site search/xray we created in the initial steps. You can add a series of refinements (extended boolean strings) that can help focus your search in different areas:

Click “Add” and the following pop-up window appears. Name your refinement and add your keywords string, then click “ok.”

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You can either go to your public URL (shown below) or use the CSE bar to the right of the setup screen to test. Run a search in the CSE bar and hit the refinement “tabs” to focus your search. I also built an HVAC refinement to this CSE.





I’ve got a few CSEs build around finding contact information, so several of my CSE have upwards of eight different refinement tabs. In other words, one can get very creative with this stuff, and it’s very cool to see some of the other ideas sourcers have.

It’s also important to remember certain sites behave differently with search engines. For example, if I was to build one for, I’d use simple boolean, since you only typically get job title, employer, and not a full work history like a Linkedin based search. This CSE is live, as well as some other FREE CSEs I’ve built on

Feel free to dive in and let me know if you have any questions on how to built a CSE this way. In my next entry, I’ll go into detail on how to built a list finder, and what the key was to search the entire web.