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Q&A: What the Retirement of Google Site Search Means for ICANN

18 April 2017
By Mark Segall

In addition to the U.N. six languages, this content is also available in

ICANN’s Community Collaboration Services team provides digital services to the ICANN community, which includes the ICANN organization and community websites. Google recently announced a change in direction that affects the entire ICANN website ecosystem. As director of this group, I’d like to share the impact of this change – and the steps ICANN is taking to minimize the disruption.

What is Google changing?

Google recently announced that starting 1 April 2017 (or at the end of any existing contracts), it would begin retiring a commonly used paid product called Google Site Search.

Up to now, Google has offered two search products:

  • Custom Search Engine is a free offering that gives basic search functionality, but requires Google branding and display of ads. It limits the number of searches to 100 per day.
  • Google Site Search was a paid version with added functionality, including the ability to use ICANN branding and eliminate ads. It allowed an unlimited number of searches per day. This is the product Google has withdrawn from the market – and the impacts are not trivial for ICANN and for anyone visiting our websites.

How does this change affect ICANN websites?

When you run a search on an ICANN webpage, you have been using either Custom Search Engine or Google Site Search – depending on where the page lives. Google’s licensing is by website (called a collection). The good news is these ICANN websites already use the free version, so nothing changes:

Three ICANN websites use the paid version, so they will be downgraded to the free version: 

If ICANN takes no action, how would the search experience change for visitors to these three websites?

Currently, you can run an unlimited number of searches on any of the three websites set up with the paid search offering. Your search results display with ICANN branding and without ads. ICANN chose this version of the Google search product because we felt these options provided you with the best search experience. 

With Custom Search Engine, your search results would include ads. ICANN branding would still be possible, but it would come at a functional cost – a limit of 100 searches per day. This query cap would be inadequate for a site visited as frequently as www.icann.org. After reaching the limit, all search queries would return a “500 error,” which is a generic error when webservers can’t fulfill requests.

Secondly, because the downgrade of our search collections would require ICANN to take manual steps, the affected sites would be at risk for service disruption.

What steps is ICANN taking to minimize problems?

With a site that has as many visitors as icann.org, we cannot passively wait for the search to be downgraded. Internally, we are working to ensure the downgrade is seamless:

  • ICANN has been able to suppress ads on the three affected sites by leveraging our nonprofit status.


  • We can address the 100-query limit by purchasing additional capacity, which we can enable once the websites have been downgraded to Custom Search Engine.


  • We’re being proactive. ICANN is controlling the timing of the migration of our three websites. We will perform the conversion to Custom Search Engine during a maintenance window so we can limit the impact to users.


  • As a long-term strategy, ICANN is investigating potential replacement solutions for our existing search ecosystem.

Are there any caveats to be aware of?

We’re taking every precaution to ensure a smooth transition, but our approach does have constraints:

  • Each site must be reindexed. We expect the impact to be minimal because we are testing against full copies of the affected sites.
  • Initially, Google site rankings could change – with some search results appearing slightly lower in the list.

When is this change happening?

On 1 April 2017, Google stopped offering new purchases of Google Site Search. Existing sites can continue to use it until their contracts end. ICANN’s sunset dates are:

  • icann.org         1 July 2017
  • IANA                1 July 2017
  • At-Large          30 July 2017

Rest assured that the Community Collaboration Services team is doing all we can to make the transition as seamless as possible. We understand that this is not a perfect solution, but for now it is the best option. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to email me at mark.segall@icann.org.


Mark Segall