Understanding Search Engines

What is the best search engine for searching? There really is no best, because each search engine "does its own thing." Search engines have not yet standardized in the same way many library catalogs and article databases have. As you search the Web, you may find yourself returning to the same search engine. Most people have a "favorite" search engine they tend to use, probably because they become familiar with its features and become more adept at finding what they want.

Even though search engines differ, some common characteristics are listed below. The best way to learn more about a particular search engine is to look at its "Help pages." 

  • Search engines often use a directory structure to categorize the web pages they include. The best known (and largest) of these is Yahoo! which searches its category words first rather than the text of its web pages. Most allow you to easily search beyond the boundaries of the categories used.
  • Many search engines rank the results list according to how many of your search terms the Web source contains, placement of those terms within the resource or other criteria. The order in which you enter search terms is usually not important with these relevancy rankings. Each search engine has its own way of determining relevance.
  • Search engines rarely allow you to limit your previous search. The search must be re-entered based on your new strategy.
  • Many search engines allow you to "tailor" your results list. You may be able to specify the number of items in the results list, limit the relevancy score or even specify the criteria used to determine relevance.