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The Fundamentals of Search Engines and How To Use Them Effectively

The advent of the Internet has transformed the manner in which any serious net-user obtains information due to the following:

  • It is fundamental to both basic and in-dept research

  • It provides the fastest means to gain information on about every subject

  • Its scope and quality of the information is increasing exponentially on a daily rate

Whether you are searching for information related to business, research, general knowledge, or entertainment, exploring the World Wide Web (WWW) can often be a long and tedious task and finding the information you need amongst this huge collection of resources can be very difficult without effective tools and techniques or shortcuts. The key to Internet’s utility is knowing how best to search and comprehend its endless cyberspace of information. On a negative note, information from the Internet is also highly unbridled and littered with "noises", misinformation, and utter nonsense.

Like our outer space, the cyberspace is a borderless uncharted territory. The speed in which the Internet and information in the web has made it increasingly necessary to provide a quick and easy method of rapidly searching webspace. This is where ‘search engines’ (also called ‘search tools’ or ‘guides’) have been developed which can perform this activity - provide a front end to a database of indexed WWW resources, into which search keywords can be typed. Knowing the fundamentals of search engines essentially gives you an advantage on how to use them effectively.

There are three basic search engines to navigating through the Net - ‘spider engines’, ‘meta engines’, and ‘search directories’.

  • Spider Engines - A programme that roams the area to be searched, collecting data and links to more data. There are different types of programmes and are often referred to as robots, worms, and crawlers (e.g., Alta Vista -

  • Meta Engines - A programme that will simultaneously search (or what is termed as meta search) a number of search engines at once. Meta engines are generally classified as spider engines since the programme executes in the same manner as spiders but it roams for the collective database of search engines instead of individual web sites (e.g., MetaCrawler -

  • Search Directories - An index of the data collected to enable fast access to terms that a surfer search for. These are also similar to ‘subject guides’, which are compiled and maintained by humans (e.g., Yahoo -

There are several basic differences between search spiders and directories which includes the following:

  • Spider engines index every page of a given web site, whereas directories are more likely to provide a link to only the site’s homepage.

  • Spider engines typically cover a larger database, whereas directories use a smaller database and their resulting lists tend to be smaller as well.

  • Directories tend to give a more accurate subject search result, whereas spider engines are more likely to provide sites that are really out of context.

  • Directories are more hierarchically organise with detailed categories and sub-categories, whereas spider engines can get messy and disoriented if the surfer does not have a particular subject at hand.

The number of search engines available on the Internet has also grown quickly over a very recent period, and this has posed new problems for surfers. There are now a bewildering variety of search engines available - each offering different features and interfaces. Many are linked to sizeable catalogues of WWW resources, and some claim to offer a comprehensive index of the entire Internet.

There is a need for some knowledge on how to use search utilities effectively and efficiently to get a quicker and accurate result. Basically, surfers would need to learn the ‘algorithm’ (set of rules) used by each engines to rank web sites. Result of a search could be based on several factors such as ‘keyword density’, ‘link popularity’, ‘spam filtering’ etc. The most common one is ‘keyword density’, which is the weight of particular keywords resulted in higher ranking. Such information are normally found in the sites’ ‘help’ or ‘how to search’ sections. Most of us will normally make the mistake of not browsing to this page since the link are usually at the very bottom of the page, nest to the search box, or not very visible.

So, which search engines to use? For an average web searcher, there is really not too much of a difference between today’s top search engines. Their search technologies are extremely competitive and more often will net similar results. As long as you feel comfortable with a particular search engine, it is not necessary to switch to others. The only reason to try a new search engine is when you can’t search for what you are looking for. Many of us tend to switch mainly because of our own fault of not taking some time off to study the ‘algorithm’ of a search engine. That alone would not only help us to get more accurate results but also save us valuable online time.

For an intense web searcher, you may find many distinctions between the various search engines. It is therefore, a must for intense web searchers to be very familiar with several popular search engines. If you know the ‘algorithm’ of the search engines, you can use many tricks or shortcuts to get the best results. In general, spider engines are best suited for locating information on a general subject, whereas directories are best for a specific piece of information. For example, if you are searching for "how to make money", try Alta Vista or MetaCrawler for best results. But if you seek "how to make money through your web site", Yahoo or AskJeeves ( may be the better options.

For a better understanding of the search ‘algorithm’ or tips for a better search, the following are links to the specific pages of the various leading search engines on the web:




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