August 6, 2008
With the ever-expanding enormity of the Internet, desirable search engine results are more important than ever before. Search engines are generally an efficient way to narrow down the millions of pages of information available, to a few relevant results.
Advanced Search Features
The relevancy of results can depend on several factors. For one, the search terms used make a difference. Boolean search rules are probably the best-known and most widely used. These consist of separating specific terms with AND, OR, or NOT, to include or exclude results. To get an overview of the Advanced Search Features available in a number of search engines, check out this chart: http://www.mlb.ilstu.edu/ressubj/subject/intrnt/srcheng.htm
One rule to remember is that the more specific your search terms are, the better your results will be. For example, instead of searching for “dogs”, try searching for “terriers”.
Another rule is that less is more. Be concise with the search terms you pick – putting too many search words into the engine can result in confusing or too few results. In fact, most search engines limit the number of words that can be used in a search request to ten words.
Finally, you can also add filters to whatever you are searching. For example, if you are searching full text files, you can enter title:oxygen to find only files with the word “oxygen” in the title. The same can be done for URLs. If you know “oxygen” is part of the URL you’re looking for, you would enter inurl:oxygen. I use this tool all of the time to find information provided on a government website by adding inurl:gov to my search criteria.
Organic and Paid Search Results
If you’ve ever used more than one search engine, you’ll quickly realize that not every search engine returns the same results or links. There will be similarities and differences across most search engines, especially the “Big Three”: Google, Yahoo, and MSN.
The Big Three search engines tend to include sponsored results (basically, results that somehow fit the search term as defined by the advertiser, and which appear above the real search results). Usually the sponsored results will note that they are “sponsored” results somewhere, so as not to be confused with the “real” results. Except, the search engine companies actually hope – that you’ll click on the paid results instead of the real results, so the search companies can get paid for you visiting their clients’ websites.
The results from the different search engines can actually overlap. If you want to have a wide variety of relevant links, you may spend time typing the same words into different engines, only to come up with mostly the same search results.
There is a tool that makes the similarities between the search engines abundantly clear; although this search tool is not good for much other than to show you how similar search results can be between Yahoo and Google: http://www.langreiter.com/exec/yahoo-vs-google.html
A variation on this theme can be seen here: http://ranking.thumbshots.com/
Meta Search Engines Combine Results From Many Search Engines
Instead of relying on the Big Three search engines alone, don’t be afraid to try some different search engines. Meta search engines are a good way to be more efficient with your searches, and they will help you to get a much more diverse set of relevant search results. Meta search engines, such as http://www.Clusty.com and http://www.Widow.com are both good at returning a wide variety of results.
For demonstration purposes, let’s take a look at some different search terms in each of five different search engines – Google, Yahoo, MSN, Clusty and Widow. The three search terms used for this unscientific experiment are: unemployment, weather, and Myanmar.
Test Search: Unemployment
For “unemployment”, Google, Yahoo and Clusty first returned sponsored links. MSN and Widow both returned online encyclopedia results – MSN using Encarta’s encyclopedia; Widow returning Wikipedia.org results. Wikipedia also showed up in the other three search engines, as well, but further down in the results lists.
A similarity between all of the search engine results was they each turned up specific states’ unemployment links in the first page – primarily California, New York, and Ohio. Google and Yahoo also brought up current news items related to unemployment.
Widow.com (the meta search engine) provides additional tools in the left sidebar for related-keywords and clustered search options. For the search term “unemployment”, the clustered results offered: insurance, compensation, unemployed, rate, workforce development, benefits eligible workers, information employers, data, individuals, and welcome Ohio. All of these additional search terms are just a click away.
Test Search: Weather
The next term is “weather.” In this search, only Google and Clusty returned a sponsored result at the top. The top result for the other three engines was weather.com. The secondary results in each of the engines included, in varying order, Yahoo weather, and NOAA’s National Weather Service website.
Differences for the term of “weather” included MSN showing MSN weather in their results, as well as a UK weather website on Widow.com. Again, I was impressed by the optional clustered search engine results on Widow.com. These included options for city searches, Doppler, and the latest weather news.
Test Search: Myanmar
The final search word for the five search engines was Myanmar, to test the relevance of findings for a region that’s received a lot of media attention in the last few months since the Myanmar Cyclone. The results on Google started with several colorful maps of the area, a feature that really stood out for me.
As for similarities, each of the five search engines contained one or more Wikipedia results. The search engines also included current news links and some tourism links. Once again, many of the clustered search results on Widow.com caught my eye: travel, Burma (Myanmar’s previous name), culture, cyclone, statistics, politics, government, and tours.
Search Lessons Learned
What are we to learn from this little search engine experiment? There are several things that you can take away from this. For starters, the Big Three search engines tend to have pretty similar results. Occasionally there are differences, but not anything spectacularly different.
Another conclusion that can be drawn is that you are more likely to get sponsored results when you use more general terms (unemployment, weather), as many advertisers can link their products to a wide variety of general terms.
The most pleasant feature is the availability of diverse range of clustered and related terms, available with a single click of the mouse, on Widow.com.
The potential for Meta search engines to cut down on multiple searches is there, if users are willing to break out of their typical searching habits, to uncover jewels of information within the existing data.
The Widow.com Meta search engine goes above and beyond what I have experienced with other Meta search engines. The Clusty.com Meta search engine also offers clustered search terms, but for some search terms, some of its offerings are simply nonsensical.
How I Discovered Meta Search Engines
In the course of my own work, I spend a lot of time searching on the web for information on a variety of topics. As a ghostwriter, I frequently write on topics that I know little about ahead of time, so I do loads of research to help me cover the topics I write about in a much more logical and educated manner.
I used to use Google almost exclusively. But, one day I was researching an article topic that I had written about previously. Imagine my aggravation when the only material that Google would show me on the topic was material I had written myself!
While I had written about that topic previously, I was not an expert on the subject. I did not want to simply rehash what I had written before; I wanted to write on the topic in a new and different way.
I tried Yahoo and MSN and met the same disappointment with the search results. Then I went to http://www.DogPile.com. I thought their results were awful, but I liked the concept of the Meta Search Engine.
I tried many Meta Search Engines, and then I came across the Widow Search Engine. I liked it so much that I made it one of the default search engines in the article search tools on my website. The thing I like about Widow best is the Clustered Search Listings. With Clustered Search, Widow brainstorms the keyword variations for me, so that I don’t have to figure out the related search terms on my own. As they say in the MasterCard commercials – this is priceless!
In the end, this article is not about which search engine will send the most traffic to a website you own. Instead, this article is about which search engine will give you the best information to help you find the answers you want and need.
Good luck and happy searching.
Bill Platt is the owner of http://www.thephantomwriters.com article ghost writing and article distribution services. He has been helping small business owners promote their online businesses, using reprint articles, since 2001. In 2007, Bill wrote an ebook titled, “Article Marketing For Traffic, Sales And Profit”. You can get Bill Platt’s ebook here.