Technophobes Guide

Search Engines

Finding information on the Internet can be a daunting task, given the vast amount of information available from every corner of the planet. Search engines have been developed to help you locate information on the Internet.


A search engine uses its own software to roam, catalogue, index and compile references to as many web sites as it can. It follows the hyperlinks contained in each web page it encounters and builds up vast libraries of information as it progresses. This data is then indexed and stored on huge databases at the search engine’s own web site.

Search engines have different ways of searching and indexing the web. For example; some are instructed to catalogue only the most popular web sites; some locate every link on a home page and examine each link to search for more information; others are programmed not to locate graphics, sound or video files. What may have been missed by one search engine may have been picked up by another. They also differ in speed and the kind of links they provide and also in the way they index and present their information.

It is worth trying several search engines to locate information. Alta Vista, Excite, Google, Hotbot, Infoseek, Yahoo, Lycos and WebCrawler are some of the most widely known. By trial and error you will find one or two that most suit your needs.

Most search engines are free, deriving their income from advertising. Some charge a small fee in return for a better quality of information.

Meta Search Engines

These send a request for information to a number of other search engines and await a response from each one. The responses are then collated and displayed. Most Meta search engines are quite slow, not only because they have to extract information from other sites and collate it, but also because they are very popular with Internet users so there can be a queue to access their web site. Popular Meta search engines include Askjeeves, Dogpile, 1blink, Onesearch and Savvysearch.


General Search

Type in a word or words that describe the subject of your search. Use of the word ‘or’ helps – for example, you might enter ‘find items about e-commerce or electronic commerce’. However, you are likely to be presented with a very long list which does not match your specific requirement.

Specific Search

For more specific information, you will need to enter more information into the search box, this time using the ‘and’ facility. For example: ‘find items on e-commerce and marketing’. References that are returned are likely to be more relevant to your specific enquiry.

Search and Skip

Some search engines let you specify how many web references should be returned after you submit a query. Set this to the largest possible number to ensure the most hits. You can then use the search engine’s ‘find’ function to enter a second search string. For example, a first query of ‘e-commerce’ will return many hits. ‘Find’ can then be used to enter ‘marketing’ and if a match is found in the list you will be transferred to the first entry (which should be about e-commerce and marketing).

Evolutionary Search

The most common way to search is to continually modify and update your search query to adapt and reflect the results returned. If your first query results in too many hits, keep on entering increasingly specific information until you have a more manageable list of references to work from.

The value of quotes

By linking the words of a phrase within quotes ensures that the search engine treats the phrase as a single entity, rather than returning separate references for each word. (e.g. ‘e-mail and marketing’)

Ignoring information

You can also specify information that you explicitly do not want to appear in any references returned to you after searching. Most search engines let you use plus and minus signs to do this. (e.g. ‘e-mail’ +’marketing’ -‘advertising’)

Use of Capital letters

A search engine’s help facility should give you tips on whether or not you can include capital letters when typing your enquiry. Using capital letters can affect the number of references that are returned.

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