Comparing Search Tools on the Web

What are Search Tools?

Search tools are sites on the internet which enable users to locate desired information. Success with searches is dependent upon what kind of tool is being used and the strategies employed.

Each type of search tool works differently and though they all can be utilized in a similar manner, each has special features designed to work only with that site. After learning the basics, it is a good idea to invest the time in reading the help pages for your favorite sites.

Types of Search Tools


Directory or index sites are generally arranged in menu fashion. The opening screen provides a list of broad subject categories which in turn lead to ever-narrower topics. It is arranged hierarchically. Users continue clicking on subjects until they find the desired subject. Most also offer a keyword search feature which allows quicker access to the desired topic. The more well known directories include Yahoo, Yahooligans (Yahoo especially for kids), LookSmart, and Magellan.


Directories work best when the user is not sure of appropriate keywords or just wants to browse. Yahoo contains one of the largest databases of web sites on the internet. Sites like LookSmart and Magellan have a staff which constantly reviews sites in its database with the intention of providing only worthwhile material. Yahooligans provides sites appropriate for students.


It can take several clicks to get to an actual list of sites for the topic of interest. Using the keyword search on each will make using this tool much more efficient. If the site does not review pages in its database, the quality of the search could be affected. Almost all directories allow users to submit pages to its database. If there are no reviewers of the pages before being posted, pages are placed where the person submitting the page feels it is best appropriate. This may limit the searcher's ability to retrieve an appropriate page. If no review to submissions is conducted, then the quality of the page is unknown to the searcher.

Search Engines


Search engines maintain databases of websites gathered by using a program called a spider. Spiders crawl the web and bring back sites to enter into the database. Search engines also allow users to submit sites. The sizes of the databases vary greatly and can affect the results. Using keywords, search requests produce lists of sites for the user reducing the number of clicks necessary to get to actual websites.


The quality and size of the databases vary widely. Search strategies affect the results. If the user is unaware of basic search strategies, results may be spotty. Different search engines may return different results. Each engine has its own methods of displaying and ranking results. Users need to be aware of secrets of the site to get the best results.

 Search Engine






 Northern Lights

 Web Crawler

 Size (in millions)








 Results at a time


 multiples of 10

 10, 25 (mutliples of 25)

 10, 20 (titles only)

 multiples of 10


 10, 25, 100


 Standard, Compact, Text only

 Summaries, Titles only, Sort by site

 Full, Brief, Titles only

 Summaries, Titles only

 Standard, Summary, Detailed


 Titles only, Summaries

Statistics from Search Engine Watch
* HotBot has a large database and generally returns appropriate sites. However, their advertising policy allows suggestive ads.

Meta Indices


A meta index searches several engines at one time. Since the same search on different engines return different sites, the request to several sites at once can bring back the most relevant results. The same strategies for using search engines apply to meta search engines. The most well known are Metacrawler, Mamma and


Most of the meta searhers take only a limited number of hits from each site. There is also a time limit after which the engine will move on to the next site. Since each engine has different criteria for relevancy of the search, the results received may be missing appropriate sites. The process could also be skewed by internet traffic interefernce.