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5. Use multiple search engines.

Every search engine has its own way of doing things and none of them covers everything. In fact even Google--which currently holds bragging rights to the largest database of Web pages--has yet to find and index more than 40 percent of the Web. So when thoroughness counts, you should plan on using several search engines.

Tips

  • You can automatically submit a query to multiple search engines using what are called metasearch services. MetaCrawler (www.metacrawler.com) is one of the oldest and most popular (Figure 4). Others with large followings include Dogpile (www.dogpile.com), InFind (infind.com), ProFusion (www.profusion.com), and CNET Search.com (www.search.com). The idea has caught on with many professional and casual searchers, who find that it can be a real timesaver.

    Figure 4 With MetaCrawler and other metasearch services, you can direct your query to multiple search engines-in this case AltaVista, Google, and Lycos.

  • Macintosh users running Mac OS 8.5 and later versions have a built-in metasearch capability. Part of the operating system's Sherlock application, the Internet Search tab lets you specify a word or phrase as well as the sites you want to search (Figure 5).

    Figure 5 Mac users have a built-in metasearch capability called Sherlock. Type a word or phrase in the Words text box as shown here, select the engines you want to query, and click on Search.

  • The major drawback to using a metasearch service (or the Mac's Sherlock metasearch feature) is that it takes your query and reduces it to its simplest form--stripping out quotation marks, for example, and any other punctuation and search terms that can't be handled by all the engines on the metasearch service's list.

    That may or may not be a problem, depending on the nature of your search. But it's not the same--and won't produce the same results--as going yourself to, say, three different search engines and crafting a query for each one that follows the prescribed format and takes advantage of each engine's unique search features.

  • We've also found metasearch engines to be more prone to timeouts than regular search engines. And they typically return only a small number of results (10-50) from any given search engine.

Multiple Search vs. Metasearch

It might take a bit more time to visit two or three search engines and conduct separate queries at each one. But you're likely to get better results in the long run. Metasearch engines and the Mac's Sherlock feature have several major limitations:

  • Phrase and Boolean searching are generally not available.

  • Most return only 10-50 hits from any given search engine.

  • They are highly subject to timeouts.

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