I’m a big fan of time-saving features on my computing devices. Keyboard shortcuts, text expansion snippets, clipboard managers, my keyboard-fu arsenal is full of tips and tricks that reduce the grunt of my daily tasks. After all, the less time I spend doing basic chores, the more time I have to focus on interesting ones, like writing articles or assisting my colleagues. But the all-time most awesomest bestest feature among these tricks is custom search engines on Chrome. I use them daily, all the time, and I’ve sung their praises enough times that I’ve made a few converts. What baffles me, though, is that the Chrome team has been busy adding more complicated and powerful features to Android, but it has yet to implement this very old and simple one.
A magnificent time-saver
If you’re not familiar with them, custom search engines are basically quick ways to search your favorite sites directly. Say you want to find an item on Amazon, you can set it up so that anytime you type the word “amazon” in Chrome’s address bar, followed by a space (or tab) then an item’s name, then you’ll immediately get the results for that item on Amazon, without having to pass by Google first or without having to open the amazon.com page first. In a way, custom engines are nothing but glorified text expanders that put your keyword in a specific place (replacing %s) in a preset URL to give you the search you were looking for.
Once you’re familiar enough with the concept, there’s no limit to what you can do with these search engines. I’m not just talking about setting up generic searches, but way more. I’ve already given you 11 tips to make the most of them, which go through everything from the simplest search engine to more advanced and intricate uses.
You can create as many search engines for one site as you want.
What that article shows is that there’s really no limit to the level of URL manipulation you can achieve with these engines, and they can be major time-savers for anyone who spends several hours online, browsing and searching. In my opinion, they’re one of the most powerful, yet technically simple, Chrome features out there and they’ve been available in the browser for more than a decade — maybe even ever since it launched?!
However, despite the usefulness and simplicity of the feature, it has yet to cross the platform divide from desktops to our mobile devices. Neither Android nor iOS offer it, and every few weeks, I have to throw an internal tantrum over this.
Not a threat to Google search
I understand that Google’s bread and butter is its search business. I am fully aware that this is what fills its coffers and keeps its investors happy. But despite their name, custom search engines don’t really interfere with Google search — at least not the way they’re intended to be used.
They don’t replace the default engine, which is worth highlighting as a standalone point.
Then they’re only useful in circumstances where users know exactly where they’re searching for something, and not when they’re throwing proverbial darts at a wall and hoping to find an answer. Do when I’m looking for an item specifically on Amazon or BestBuy, I use that custom engine on my desktop to find it. I don’t need to open Google then look for it and hope to get a link to Amazon or BestBuy, because that’s not the point. I know beforehand where I want to find it and I’m starting my search there. On my phone, because custom search engines don’t exist, I open the Amazon or BestBuy site or app first, then I perform the search there, bypassing Google altogether again.
On desktop, I can immediately search Amazon worldwide. On mobile, I switch in the app.
If custom engines were available in Chrome on mobile, I would at least be browsing through Chrome instead of resorting to a third-party app most of the time. (Google would thus know more about my browsing history and could even serve me some ads, if we’re thinking like investors.) They wouldn’t replace Google at all, they’d supplement it.
And for those who don’t know what custom search engines are, nothing changes. This is a power-user feature that wouldn’t impact many mobile searchers. My mom and dad aren’t going to set up search engines, they’ll keep using Google or their favorite apps, and they’ll be happy with the result. Search engines aren’t going to take anyone away from Google.
I keep wondering why Google wouldn’t want to implement this handy feature and I’ve landed on the idea that not enough people must care about it, not even Chrome’s developers. (It’s not a Discover feature, so Google doesn’t have 25 engineers trying to eek the most clicks out of it… Oh snap!) I’m probably just here alone, bemoaning my luck, while Chrome users care more about a horizontal Google search strip than a way to search any site faster than ever. Oh, what do I know?