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Search engines


What are search engines?

And why do we need them?

Search engines power the wonderful sites where you can ask a question and they list sites that they think answer your query.

  • Some try to identify whole sites
  • Others pinpoint relevant pages

The search engines employed by these sites work in different ways. The first approach is to list sites within categories, rather like trade directories. The second approach relies on indexing the text within the pages to match the words entered in the search.

You need to put some thought into the words you want to search for. Try to think up some words that will take you to the pages you want. If you choose the right search engine, there is a good chance that you will be able to track down what you are looking for.

Modern websites have powerful search engines built in and most of them provide RSS feeds to help people focus on emerging stories. But the focus here are on the traditional search models of which Google is the leading exponent.

A free lunch?

People running websites put a lot of effort into promoting their sites to appeal to the search engines which crawl over the web generating a search index. Those running search engines keep refining the rules to block these tricks.

If you have a sense of humour, you could read Google's explanation of how they harness the pecking skills of pigeons to rank sites!

Some bright spark at the search engines figured out that site owners might pay to promote their sites, so some of the so-called search engines degenerated into advertising catalogues.  Their relationship with the sites they find and any shopping site you click on is seldom defined, but it is not unreasonable to assume that they might be paid for directing the customer to the site.

However, these have not been altogether successful as browsers exercised caution with the results or decided to try several search engines.

You will be amazed at the different results returned by the different search strategies. Some sites are good for entertainment, others for commerce and others for research.

The Future

Search engines make the web the amazing resource that it is. As the web expands, users will become more dependent on search engines. Google (.uk in this case) has set the pace among the word-matching search sites. Yahoo has also carved out a niche for itself in the personal and commercial search marketplace.

Some sites check all the search engines. This can be especially useful for detailed searches. (One example)

One interesting development is the Open Directory Project. This uses volunteers to check sites to compile a directory of web sites. It is supported by all the major players and could become the ultimate resource - an official directory of the whole web.

Some of the better engines will throw up pages in foreign languages. Weird as this might sound, you will often find a translate button so that, for instance, you can read what the Japanese have to say about diseases among carp. What a resource!

If you want to scan the web then try submitting your enquiry to Google. Use 3 or 6 keywords to locate relevant pages. There is no need to enter a grammatical sentence, just those key words.


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