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Selecting a Search Engine or Directory

Research Using the Internet

Selecting a Search Engine or Directory

Most people search the web by opening their web browser and going to Google. While there is no doubt that Google is the most popular and dominant search engine, it is not the only option available. There are other types of search engines, as well as directories, to help you find the information you need. Below we have provided some information about search engines and directories to help you make an educated choice. Try more than one search engine and directory and see how your results may be different!

Search Engines

Search engines are huge databases which use computer programs, sometimes called "spiders" or "crawlers," to collect information about web pages on the internet. The size of the database can vary from search engine to search engine. Using a search engine with a larger database may result in better search results.

In the 1990s, it seemed like a new search engine appeared every few months. But after the internet boom faded, competition, buyouts, and mergers have reduced the market to just a few major players: Google, MSN, Yahoo!, and Ask!. While earlier "search engines" are still available, they are either owned by the other player, or have their web searching is powered by other programs.

When you conduct a search, the engine will look through the databases for the word(s) you enter into their search interface, providing a results list with links to various web pages. Search engines rank their results in different ways, and are often very protective of how they actually order the sites. Generally, it is good to try a few different search engines and always review the results with a critical eye. Remember, what is on the top of the list is not always best.

Metasearch engines

Metasearch engines search more than one seach engine at once. When you enter a search, it will try your search in the various engines, and then summarizes the results. Metasearch engines are helpful when you want to search several different search engines quickly. However, all of the various rules regarding search engines apply (the ranking and advanced searching techniques). and Metacrawler are some popular metasearch engines.

Natural Language Searching (formerally Ask Jeeves), allows you to conduct a "natural language" search. When you type a question or a phrase into, the search engine will interpret your search, and then present results with some suggestions on how to narrow your search results.


Directories attempt to catalog and organize the Web. Directories have people or specially designed computer programs which search the web and then sort the various web pages under different categories. Individual web page owners can also submit their page for review by the directories for inclusion.

Because pages need to be reviewed in order to be included, directories generally locate far fewer web pages than a traditional search engine. In addition, because of the review process, new web pages may not appear immediately in the directory. But when you use a directory, you generally have a better idea about what the pages you select are about since the information has been reviewed and organized. Google also has its own directory service. But there are many more specialized directories available, such as the Librarians' Internet Index and the Internet Public Library organizes and evaluates web sites for researchers.

Learning More about Search Engines and Directories

Want to know more about your search engine or directory? The best thing to do is look in the "About" or "Help" section on their web site. Often they provide an FAQ section about how their search engine works and provide tips on searching techniques. However, there are also many other guides which consolidate this information.

Search Engine Showdown Reviews: Lists and provides information about the various search engines and directories available. Details advanced searching features and results ranking. Includes information on which search engines are powered by which search providers.

Search Engine Watch: Provides links to search engine reviews, and ranks search engines on their performance in certain tests. Also includes search tips and web forums.

The Scout Report Archives: Publication of the Internet Scout Project at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Provides URLs and annotations for selected internet resources.