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Twice-voted "Most Outstanding Search Engine" by Search Engine Watch readers, Google has a well-deserved reputation as the top choice for those searching the web. The crawler-based service provides both comprehensive coverage of the web along with great relevancy. It's highly recommended as a first stop in your hunt for whatever you are looking for.

Google provides the option to find more than web pages, however. Using "tabs" on the top of the search box on the Google home page, you can easily seek out images from across the web, discussions that are taking place on Usenet newsgroups or scan through human-compiled information provided from the Open Directory (see below). Also offered, though not through tabs, is catalog searching and news searching.

Google is also know for the wide range of features it offers, such as cached links that let you "resurrect" dead pages or see older versions of recently changed ones. It offers excellent spell checking, easy access to dictionary definitions, integration of stock quotes, street maps, telephone numbers and more. See Google's help page for an entire rundown on some of these features. The Google Toolbar has also won a popular following for the easy access it provides to Google and its features directly from the Internet Explorer browser.

In addition to Google's unpaid editorial results, the company also operates its own advertising programs. The cost-per-click AdWords program places ads on Google as well as some of Google's partners. Similarly, Google is also a provider of unpaid editorial results to some other search engines. For a list of major partnerships, see the Search Providers Chart.

Google was originally a Stanford University project by students Larry Page and Sergey Brin called BackRub. By 1998, the name had been changed to Google, and the project jumped off campus and became the private company Google. It remains privately held today.


An excellent crawler-based search engine, All The Web provides both comprehensive coverage of the web and outstanding relevancy. If you tried Google and didn't find it, All The Web should probably be next on your list. Indeed, it's a first stop search engine, for some.

In addition to web page results, provides the ability to search for news stories, pictures, video clips, MP3s and FTP files. The site is operated by FAST and used as a showcase for FAST's search technology. results are also provided to other search sites around the world, with its strongest partnership being with Terra Lycos. launched in May 1999.


Launched in 1994, Yahoo is the web's oldest "directory," a place where human editors organize web sites into categories. However, in October 2002, Yahoo made a giant shift to using Google's crawler-based listings for its main results.

If Yahoo is now powered by Google, then why bother using it? For one thing, you might find that the way Yahoo "enhances" Google's listings with information from its own directory may make search results more readable. See the Yahoo Renews With Google, Changes Results article from Search Engine Watch for more about this.

In addition, Yahoo's search results pages still show "Directory Category Matches." When offered, these will take you to a list of web sites that have been reviewed and approved by a human editor.

It's also possible to do a pure search of just the human-compiled Yahoo Directory, which is how the old or "classic" Yahoo used to work. To do this, search from the Yahoo Directory home page, as opposed to the regular home page. Then you'll get both Directory Category Matches and "Directory Site Matches," which are the top web site matches drawn from all categories of the Yahoo Directory.

Sites pay a fee to be included in the Yahoo Directory's commercial listings, though they must meet editor approval before being accepted. Non-commercial content is accepted for free.

Consider Yahoo any time you think you might be well served by having a list of human-reviewed web sites. It's also a good choice for popular queries, since the category listings it provides may help you narrow in and refine your query. Doing a pure Yahoo Directory search also provides an unique human view of the web.


Microsoft is known for constantly reworking its software products until they get them right, and MSN Search is a shining example of the company putting that same effort into an online product. In particular, the company has its own team of editors that monitors the most popular searches being performed and then hand-picks sites that are believed to be the most relevant. After performing a search, "Popular Topics" shown below the search box on the results page are also suggestions built largely by editors to guide you into making a more refined search. When appropriate, search results may also feature links to encyclopedia content from Microsoft Encarta or news headlines, at the top of the page.

Of course, humans editors can't do everything, so MSN Search also relies on search providers for answers to many of its queries. Usually, it will be human-powered results from the LookSmart directory that dominate the page. Unlike when MSN editors are involved, these human-powered results are not hand-picked to match a query. Instead, MSN uses its own search algorithm to sift through all the listings from LookSmart to automatically find answers that are believed to be best. More about LookSmart is described below.

For more obscure queries, it is crawler-based results from Inktomi that are provided. More about Inktomi is described below. By the way, if you'd prefer to get "pure" Inktomi results via MSN Search, you'll need to use the MSN Search Advanced Search page.

Overall, MSN Search provides a blend of human-powered directory information and crawler coverage different from any of the other top choices listed above. It's a high quality resource that provides its own unique view of the web and one worth checking.


Lycos is one of the oldest search engines on the web, launched in 1994. It ceased crawling the web for its own listings in April 1999 and instead uses crawler-based results provided by FAST (see above). So why bother with Lycos rather than using FAST's own site? You might like some of the features that Lycos provides.

"Fast Forward" lets you see search results in one side of your screen and the actual pages listed in another. Relevant categories of human-compiled information from the Open Directory appear at the bottom of the search results page. At the top of the page, Lycos will suggest other searches related to your original topic right under the search box. Perhaps you might even like the look and feel better! Whatever the reason, under the hood, Lycos provides all the same relevancy and comprehensiveness you'll find at

Lycos is owned by Terra Lycos, a company formed with Lycos and Terra Networks merged in October 2000. Terra Lycos also owns the HotBot search engine described further below.


Ask Jeeves initially gained fame in 1998 and 1999 as being the "natural language" search engine that let you search by asking questions and responded with what seemed to be the right answer to everything.

In reality, technology wasn't what made Ask Jeeves perform so well. Behind the scenes, the company at one point had about 100 editors who monitored search logs. They then went out onto the web and located what seemed to be the best sites to match the most popular queries.

Humans are still used at Ask Jeeves, though the number of editors is now only around 10. Nevertheless, the human-provided answers may still be the selling point for why some people, especially those new to the web, may want to use Ask Jeeves. For popular queries, the human-selected matches in the "Click Ask below for your answers" sections of the results may feel very relevant. If shown, these appear at the very top and bottom of the search results page.

Besides humans, Ask Jeeves also uses crawler-based technology to provide results to its users. These results come from the Teoma search engine that it owns, which is described below.

Ask Jeeves also owns the Direct Hit service, but results from Direct Hit are no longer offered to the public directly through the Direct Hit site. Instead, Direct Hit results are only found through some Ask Jeeves partners. See the Using Direct Hit Popularity Results page for more about this.

AOL SEARCH (internal) (external)

AOL Search provides users with editorial listings that come Google's crawler-based index. Indeed, the same search on Google and AOL Search will come up with very similar matches. So, why would you use AOL Search? Primarily because you are an AOL user. The "internal" version of AOL Search provides links to content only available within the AOL online service. In this way, you can search AOL and the entire web at the same time. The "external" version lacks these links. Why wouldn't you use AOL Search? If you like Google, many of Google's features such as "cached" pages are not offered by AOL Search.


Teoma is a crawler-based search engine owned by Ask Jeeves. It has an extremely small index of the web, only about 1/10th the size of crawler-competitors Google,, Inktomi and AltaVista. However, being large doesn't make much of a difference when it comes to popular queries, and Teoma's won praise for its relevancy since it appeared in 2000. Some people also like its "Refine" feature, which offers suggested topics to explore after you do a search. The "Resources" section of results is also unique, pointing users to page that specifically serve as link resources about various topics. Teoma was purchased by Ask Jeeves in September 2001 and also provides some results to that web site.


Like Teoma, WiseNut is a crawler-based search engine that attracted attention when it appeared on the scene in 2001. Like Teoma, WiseNut features good relevancy. Unlike Teoma, WiseNut has a large database, making it nearly as comprehensive as Google, and Inktomi. However, the WiseNut database has not been refreshed since June 2001. This incredible staleness should be corrected in late 2002, when WiseNut's owner LookSmart is promising to revamp the engine. LookSmart bought WiseNut in April 2002. If the revamp happens, then WiseNut may deliver on its initial promise.


AltaVista is the oldest crawler-based search engine on the web. It opened in December 1995 and for several years was the "Google" of its day, in terms of providing relevant results and having a loyal group of users that loved the service.

Sadly, an attempt to turn AltaVista into a portal site in 1998 saw the company lose track of the importance of search. Over time, relevancy dropped, as did the freshness of AltaVista's listings and the crawler's coverage of the web.

Today, AltaVista is once again focused on search. Improvements have been made, but crawlers such as Google and still provide more comprehensive results. Because of this, AltaVista is probably a third-choice crawler, one to try if you haven't found what you are looking for at one of its competitors.

AltaVista does remains strong is in terms of some of the specialty searching it offers. It provides a good image search service, and you can look for video and audio clips, as well. It also has an outstanding news search service.

AltaVista was originally owned by Digital, then taken over by Compaq, when that company purchased Digital in 1998. AltaVista was later spun off into a private company, which is now controlled by CMGI.


When HotBot debuted in May 1996, it gained a strong following among serious searchers for the quality and comprehensiveness of its crawler-based results, which were provided by Inktomi, at the time. It also caught the attention of experienced web users and techies, especially for the unusual colors and interface it continues to sport today.

HotBot gained some notoriety when it switched over to using Direct Hit's "clickthrough" results for its main listings in 1999 (see the Using Direct Hit Popularity Results page for more about this). Direct Hit was then one of the "hot" search engines that had recently appeared. Unfortunately, the quality of Direct Hit's results couldn't match those of another "hot" player that had debuted at the same time, Google. HotBot's popularity began to drop.

Even worse, HotBot also suffered by being owned by Lycos (now Terra Lycos). Lycos had acquired HotBot when it purchased Wired Digital in October 1998. Lycos failed to make search a priority on its flagship Lycos site as well as HotBot through much of 1999 and 2000, as it focused instead on adding "portal" features. The company refocused on search in late 2001, making significant improvements to the Lycos site (described above). HotBot's chance at redemption is supposed to come in late 2002.


Owned by AOL Time Warner, Netscape Search uses Google for its main listings, just as does AOL's other major search site, AOL Search. So why use Netscape Search rather than Google? Unlike with AOL Search, there's no compelling reason to consider it. The main difference between Netscape Search and Google is that Netscape Search will list some of Netscape's own content at the top of its results. Netscape also has a completely different look and feel than Google. If you like either of these reasons, then try Netscape Search. Otherwise, you're probably better off just searching at Google.

Information source: Search Engine Watch


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