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About Web Search Engines

Using Search Engines

There is no central index or catalog to the Internet. There are many search engines you can use to find the free information on the World Wide Web.

Parts of a Search Engine

  1. Spider (or Crawler). This is software which visits pages on the Web, reading page titles, body copy and other elements. It learns about new pages by following links. A database with copies of every web page visited by the spider is created at the search engine site.
  2. Index. Like a giant book of all the words in the database with pointers to the web pages that contain those words.
  3. Searching Software. This is software that sifts through the millions of pages recorded in the index to find matches to a search. It ranks them in order of relevancy, based on a formula or algorithm.
  4. Directory. Most search engines now also have directories, a hierarchical menu of sites created by people rather than software.

Although search engines have the basic parts described above, there are differences in how these parts are tuned. That is why the same search on different search engines often produces different results.

Tips for Effective Searching:

The trick for getting what you want from a search engine is to give the search engine as much detail as you can about the topic. Instead of typing a single word into the engine, type a phrase or series of words which are specific to the topic. For instance, to find out more about searching for information on the Internet, enter "searching the Internet" instead of "search." There are many ways to control your search. You will increase your search effectiveness by practicing using only one or two search engines until you have learned all the features and the type of information found through it. Information on features of each search engine can be found in the "help" or "search tips" sections.

Special Search Features (Syntax):

  • Phrase searching. Often putting the words of a phrase in quotes will cause the engine to look only for those words together:
    "chocolate cake"
  • You can often use Boolean operators to refine your search.
    • Plus sign. If you by putting a + in front of each word that you want to require the engine to find in a document:
      +recipe +chocolate +frosting will return chocolate frosting recipes
    • Minus sign. Put a - in front of words which must not be found in any listed documents:
      +chocolate -nuts will return documents about chocolate, but not nuts
    • Asterisk. If a word can have many endings, put an * to represent those possibilities:
      photo* will find photograph, photos, photography, photographic, etc.

Besides the Help screens of individual Web Search Tools, try this site: Search Engine Watch