How to use a Google Custom Search Engine for SEO

One of the tips I gave away at MozCon was to use a Google custom search engine (CSE) to dig through your competitors links and find easy wins.  I wouldn’t advise this as your only link building tactic because ultimately you want to get the links that your competitors can’t get as these will make the difference.  But a few easy win quality links is always welcome and can give you some diversity.

Since MozCon, I’ve had a few people ask me more about this tactic so I thought I’d write a blog post and go into a bit more detail.

What a Google CSE is

You can get an idea of the basics from this page too but I’ll go into some of them here and provide some SEO context.

A custom search engine allows you to use Google search technology to search pages and domains that you specify.  So rather than doing a standard search on and having to filter down to the level you want, you can define exactly what you want to search which can cut down the number of results to a more manageable and reasonable size.

You specify the domains and pages you want to search by copying and pasting into your CSE – nice and simple by copying and pasting your list.  At this point you can tell Google whether you want to search an entire domain or just the pages.

How this helps you if you’re an SEO

There are a number of uses but the one I talked about at MozCon was using a CSE to dig through your competitors backlinks to find easy win links.  So let’s go through the process for this.

How to create a Google CSE to mine your competitors backlinks

Step 1 – Go to your link analysis tool of choice, in this example we’ll use Open Site Explorer and enter your competitors URL:

Tip – exclude links from your own domain so you have a cleaner of results.

Now export the report to a CSV from the right hand side:

You’ll have to wait a few minutes for the CSV, then you can download it.

Step 2 – Create a Google Custom Search Engine, start by going to this URL whilst logged into your Google Account.  Then click on the big blue button on the right hand side:

Now you just need to fill in the fields which are easy:

Now you need to copy and paste your list of links from your CSV into this bit:

Agree to the terms and conditions, then click next.

If you want, you can define the colour scheme of your engine, I usually leave it at default but you can change it if you want:

Now we need to give the engine a quick test before finalising it, just type a word into the search box:

You’ll get a feel for the results very quickly and see how good they are.  Remember, depending on your competitors strategies, you may not find a certain type of link such as guest post if they haven’t done them.  So try a few and see what you can find.  If all is well, click on next.

Step 3 – Paste onto your chosen page using the code that Google gives you:

I tend to put this code up on a hidden page somewhere on one of my sites.  So the URL is accessible to anyone that needs it but it can’t be crawled or found easily.

That’s it!  Once you’ve done it once, it will take you a few minutes to do again.


5 thoughts on “How to use a Google Custom Search Engine for SEO”

    1. Hi Velecito,

      The idea is that you can find potential link opportunities that you may also use to build links to your own website. You’ll want to have other link building campaigns as well, but this can be a good way of finding easy link targets from your competitors.

      Hope that helps.


  1. Thanks for the step by step Paddy! I’ve used this a couple of times and found it extremely useful in terms of weeding out the ‘not so relevant’ sites that OSE delivers when doing backlink analysis. Keep the tips coming 🙂

  2. Thanks for the step by step Paddy! I’ve used GCSE a few times now and it’s great for weeding out irrelevant sites found during your OSE backlink searches. Keep the times coming !

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