Overview of Topic
For Additional Research
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Search Topic 12:

Search Engines

Web Search Guides

by Judy Bates, Associate Editor

I. Overview of Topic

Google is a great search engine but if you do a significant amount of Internet research you really should know what other tools are out there. This Guide will overview some of the best search tools currently available and also discuss useful search strategies.

There are several ways to categorize search engines: for example, general/niche, national/local, desktop/mobile-enabled, etc. .

Let's start with the general engines. Google is the undisputed king in general Internet text-based search, currently receiving over 70% of all U.S. search queries. Yahoo and Microsoft Live Search are second and third, respectively. All deliver good results for standard text queries, the common problem being however that for just about any keyword or keyword phrase you enter you get millions of hits. And less than 1% of these hits are probably really relevant to whatever you're looking for (which, by the way, is why we're developing our WebSearchGuides - to help you focus your searches better).

Most people deal with the information overload problem by scanning down the search results list of descriptions for the first ten or twenty websites, and then clicking on two or three that seem most relevant. This is really a hit-and-miss research method but then who has time to review hundreds of sites?

An alternative approach you might consider is to focus more on the "Sponsored Links" results. Of course, these are basically ads - unlike the "natural" results, which are found by the search engine's algorithm. The sponsored or paid results - those little text ads at the top of the page or the little text boxes along the right side - represent website companies that have paid good money to have their ads appear for your keyword. That's a pretty good indicator they're relevant to your search. Some probably deserve your attention. Others don't. But at any rate, don't ignore the natural results. That is, it's a good idea to review both the sponsored and the natural results.

New Search Features

Some search engines have introduced new features to help you focus your search and save you time and aggravation.

  • displays a "Narrow Your Search" column to the right of its results. It contains links suggesting more specific terms or topics to search on which are related to your keyword or keyword phrase.
  • Microsoft Live Search Scratchpad helps you keep track of listed sites that you may want to investigate later. As you scroll down the results page, you can drag images to the Scratchpad column on the right.
  • Yahoo now adds a human touch to its results pages with Yahoo Answers ( Found at the bottom of the results page, this feature lets you access a community of users where you can ask or answer questions related to your search topic. Similarly, Yahoo's "Also try" feature provides a list of links on related topics.

Another new approach is to integrate current news stories with search results. For example, if you need to research the topic "U.S. telephone industry" you'll receive links to news stories about this industry as well as the usual links to factual information. All the major search engines are gradually introducing this feature, but at present a little-known engine called is doing the best job at it.

Another lesser-known engine, , has introduced an interesting time-saving feature. This engine displays search results on the left half of the page and a preview of the first result on the right half. All results have Preview buttons so you can scroll through results more quickly. Will this save you a lot of time? Not likely, but any improvement is welcome.

Search Engines Ranked By Categories

Here, according to PC World, are the best, fastest search engines in selected categories (the best listed first):

Text Search: Google, Yahoo, Microsoft Live Search, AltaVista,

Image Search: Google Image Search, AskImages, Lycos Image Search, Live Search Images

Blog Search: Google Blog Search, Sphere, Blogdigger, Bloglines

News Search: Google News, AltaVista, Yahoo, Microsoft Live Search (Note: for archived news stories, check out NewsLibrary .)

Local Search: Live Search for Mobile, Google Maps, Yahoo Local, Whitepages, AskCity

As you can see, Google is first in all but one category. However, you should be aware that it's often worthwhile to use more than one search engine - results can differ significantly. On the other hand, you should also be aware that some search engines get their results from others, for example AOL Search is based on Google, and AltaVista is based on Yahoo. Virtually all the small search engines, like FindWhat, Kandoodle, etc., mirror results from the big engines.

The Hidden Web

You may have read that "90% of the information on the Internet is hidden" (or something similar), meaning that most online information can't be found using search engines. In reality, nobody knows what the percentage is (after all, the information is hidden). But it's a lot.

What is all this hidden information exactly? It's mainly information on websites that are gated, such as subscription sites, or password-protected corporate or government sites.

There's really no way to get into the password-protected sites (without the passwords) but there's now a service which will allow you to access up to 40 popular paid-content sites, such as Encyclopedia Britannica, The Wall Street Journal, New Republic, and Morningstar. Congoo lets you make 4 to 15 visits a month to any of its list of subscription sites for a monthly subscription fee.

Niche Search Engines

Niche search engines cater to specific markets or industries as opposed to the general marketplace. Often these engines can provide good targeted information more compactly and even more in-depth than the general SE's. It's almost always worth while taking the time to search for a specialized SE for most topics or industries you need to research.

For example, if your subject is business-related, you might find what you need quicker on than by trying to deal with a deluge of results from Google. If your topic is fitness-related, try

You can often find niche search engines by searching for "(Your Topic) and search engine" or "(Your Topic) and directory" using Google or Yahoo. These smaller search engines shouldn't be your only research tool, but they can be effective supplemental sources.

A Few Search Tips

The most obvious search tip is one many people use, but some don't - and that's to always put quote marks around your search term. That is, search for "Bermuda Triangle" not Bermuda Triangle. Otherwise you'll get hits for Bermuda and also hits for Triangle, as well as for Bermuda Triangle. Another useful trick to keep in mind is using the minus sign in your search. For example you might search for California -Sacramento if you want information on California but not on Sacramento. Finally, use search strings. All words you enter into your string will be used to help focus your search results. For example if you enter "London Theater Tours Summer 2008" the search engine will try to find companies offering those specific types of tours at that specific time.

That's it - our ten minutes are up! (OK, maybe twelve or thirteen if you're a slow reader.) Below is a listing of Web resources to help you continue your research on search engines.

II. For Additional Research

This Section provides reviews and recommendations of Web sites and other online resources


One of the snazziest Internet research sites around, iTools (which is free) links you into easy-to-use search menus for:

- Internet Search (web search, video search, discussion groups, etc.)

- Language Tools (dictionaries, thesauruses, technical-terminology dictionaries, language translators, and even a Crossword Puzzle Solver

- Research Tools (encyclopedias, newspapers, magazines, biographies, quotations

- Financial Tool (currency converter)

- Map Tools

- Internet Tools (link popularity checker, Ping checker, NSLookup, etc.)

- People Search and Email Address Finders

- Site also includes an International White Pages and Yellow Pages Directory

Starting Points for Internet Research

A Purdue University site, Starting Points for Internet Research offers links to starting points for researching hundreds of academic topics, from "Art History" to "Women's Studies. Well worth bookmarking for future reference.


III.Discussion Group


Have questions or thoughts to share regarding search engines? Visit our Web Search Guides Discussion Group.

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Disclaimer Statement. Web Search Guides is a service of Washington Research Associates, Inc. All information presented is for information purposes only and isn't intended to provide professional or legal advice. Advertisements are presented for information or marketing purposes only and Washington Research Associates Inc. makes no representations for any products or services that are promoted and accepts no responsibility for any actions or consequences that occur as a result of any purchases from advertisers.


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