What is a Search Engine?

A search engine is a tool to help you find information on the Internet. Search engines periodically scan the contents of the Web to rebuild their massive indexes of Web pages. Some search titles or headers of documents, others search the documents themselves, and still others search other indexes or directories. When you request specific KEYWORDS, they then search the indexes they have built for those words. Your search is not a "live" search of the web, but a search of that engine's index.

Since different methods are used to build search engine indexes, it is important to note that different search engines will give you different results. Acquaint yourself with and use several different search engines for more in-depth research much as you would look in several books of a library's reference section to research any topic for applicable information. Be sure you take a close look at the source of the information you receive. Internet has no filter so personal opinions and links to personal home pages in addition to well-documented primary research sources may show up in your results list.

Two features will probably influence your choice of a "favorite" search engine. One is ease of use: it should allow you to customize your searches without offering so many options that using it is confusing. Second, a good search engine should be accurate: if properly configured, it will return a reasonable quantity of fairly precise results.

One way to learn about the particular characteristics of any search engine is to read its "help" screens. Alta Vista's Advanced Search provides a detailed description and some sophisticated examples.

Proceed to Comparing Search Engines.

Go back to Deciding Where to Search.