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   Using Search Engines

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Search Engine Basics

There is so much information on the Internet but how can we find the useful information we need. One tool is the “Search Engine”.  

There are so many search engines! Are they all the same? Which one is the best? What is the best way to ask the search engine for exactly what I need? Let’s discuss each of these questions, presenting simple answers that will help us find what we need on the Internet.


Are all Search Engines the same?

There are different ways in which search engines work, search engines can be grouped as:

Indexers / Crawlers - They use an automated or “robotic” means of collecting information. They “crawl” through the Internet cataloging and indexing websites.

Advantages: They cover a wide range of websites.

Disadvantages: They may return a great deal of worthless information that must be further refined.

Examples: Alta Vista, Excite (also is a directory), HotBot, Magellan


Directories – Humans instead of robotic crawlers catalog websites.

Advantages: May be more accurate then crawler search engines.

Disadvantages: Generally returns fewer hits.

Examples: AskJeeves, Lycos, Yahoo,


Metacrawlers – These search engines use a “metacrawler” to search the database of several search engines.

Advantages: These are a kind of a one stop solution to search several databases.

Disadvantages: May return only limited number of hits.

Examples: Webcrawler, Query Server and Info Space


What is the best way ask the search engines for exactly what I need?

With “Askjeeves” you simply type a question in plan English. In most search engines you use keyword(s). Selecting the best keyword(s) is a kind of an art. Choosing the right keyword(s) may take much trial and error.

Many search engines use “Boolean” searches for keyword(s). What that means is if you use the keywords Police Training this means the search engine will search for websites first that contain both words but then it will return with websites that contain either of the words. So you will get websites that discuss Police and different websites that discuss Training. Based upon a “Boolean” search when you type in Police Training you are really asking the search engine to look for Police “or” Training.  If you typed Police AND Training you would get websites that contain both Police and Training. This would be a much more accurate search. One trick to make searching easier is when you want to search for the exact phrase of keywords, use quotation marks with your key words such as “Police Training.” This will cause the search engine to only return websites that contain the complete phase Police Training. Some search engines use their own search system rather than the Boolean search so it will take some experimentation to get your best results.


Which one is the best?

It is often asked which search engine is best and the answer is “it seems to vary with each search.” In other words there is not a “best” search engine. There are some that we prefer to use and they can be found on our search engine page but no one search engine does everything (at least not yet). We need to use several search engines.  I've found it is best to use a couple of indexers and one or two metacrawlers. Maybe even check a directory or two.  I've found that Google, Alta Vista and HotBot work well for Law Enforcement training research.  Google seems to have the most websites indexed, they say over 1 billion, and it does a good job of returning relevant results. One problem with Google is that you cannot do the advanced "Boolean" searches. I use Alta Vista for more advanced searches. I like to use "Info Space" as my metacrawler. "Info Space" seems to do a very good job searching the other search engines such as Dogpile, Google, Alta Vista, infoseek and several others.  

The more one learns about and uses search engines the better the results. If you don't get what you need at first, keep trying! Try a different search engine, different keywords or a different way to search. The info you need is likely to be somewhere on the web, it may just take a little time and effort to find it.    

For more information about search engines go to Search Engine Watch .





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