Major Search Engines; a comparison

How to get the best out of the Internet.

Since the last time that I wrote this article there have been a great many changes with the major search engines and what they can do. This provides a comparison of major engines. Previous versions of this article have included various different search engines, and this continues to be the case here; I add and drop search engines as they come into or go out of fashion. The previous version included AltaVista, AllTheWeb and Lycos. I decided to drop the latter two, since they have (in my opinion) pretty much dropped off the scale, but I kept AltaVista, mainly because I still like it and will use it now and then. I have included Exalead and Icerocket as new engines; mainly because they are ones that I will use, and I've also put Yahoo! and MSN Search in as well, since they are increasing in importance.

Things to remember when searching using these engines.

If you are used to online database searching, or using CD-ROM products, you'll find that these engines are an annoying mix of the very skillful and the very primative. Altavista will, for example, search through a very large database in a matter of a few seconds, and while it is reasonably sophisticated does not stand up well in comparison to some of the advanced features offered by CD-ROM publishers.
Don't forget that there is more to searching the Internet than just looking at WWW pages. An increasing number of search engines will allow you to use their facilities to search newsgroups, or perhaps people's email addresses.
The databases which the search engines use may well be out of date; new material may have been added, other material may have been deleted. You will only discover this when you actually click to go to a particular site.
If you don't find what you want from one, try using another.
Use a variety of different engines, appropriate to your needs. If for example you just want information on UK or European resources, it makes more sense to go to a search engine which focuses on that region, rather than use a search engine which is global in approach.
There are a great many search engines, but for a list of those which I find particularly useful, please visit my Search Engines page.

Search engines - a tabular comparison.

Altavista Exalead Google Icerocket MSN Search Teoma Wisenut Yahoo!
WWW YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
Usenet NO NO YES (Google groups) NO NO NO NO NO
Word in URL YES YES YES NO YES YES NO YES
Languages? All or English 38 35 NO 38 10 25 37
Image search? YES NO YES YES YES NO NO YES
News? YES NO YES YES YES NO NO YES
Multimedia? YES NO Separate function YES NO NO NO YES
Limit by file format? YES (6) YES (8) YES (6) NO YES (7) NO NO YES (7)
Boolean YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
Proximity NO YES up to 16 words YES (Using *) NO NO NO NO NO
Wildcards (three * mice) YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
Search in Domain YES YES YES YES YES YES NO YES
Search in Title YES YES YES NO YES YES NO YES
Capitalisation? NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO
Altavista Exalead Google Icerocket MSN Search Teoma Wisenut  
Truncation (librar*) NO YES NO NO YES NO NO YES
Sort Results? NO YES (oldest/newest) NO NO YES (date, popularity, exactness) NO NO NO
Preview Doc. size NO YES YES YES NO NO NO NO
Date doc updated NO YES YES NO Variable NO NO NO
Search in results NO NO YES NO NO NO NO NO
Group results? NO YES NO NO NO YES YES NO
Index size given? NO YES 2,027,698,928 NO NO NO NO NO NO
Personalised? NO YES YES YES (search history) NO NO NO YES
Geographic Specific? NO YES YES NO YES YES NO YES
Search weblogs option? NO NO Seperate function YES NO NO NO Seperate function
Thumbnails? NO YES NO YES NO NO NO NO
Limit by date? YES (excellent) YES (good) YES (poor) NO NO YES (excellent) NO YES (poor)
"Phil Bradley" 133,000 (3rd) 2,729 (7th) 93,100 (4th) 92,900 (5th) 482,554 (1st) 14,600 (6th) 2,164 (8th) 144,000 (2nd)
Everton 12,200,000 (2nd) 5,240,000 (3rd) 688,000 (7th) 5,040,000 (4th) 1,147,801 (6th) 1,748,00(5th) 138,390 (8th) 13,000,000 (1st)
Internet 2,900,000,000 (1st) 160,139,089 (7th) 2,470,000,000 (3rd) 2,147,483,647 (4th) 563,280,393 (5th) 416,770,000 (6th) 34,112,115 (8th) 2,890,000,000 (2nd)
This chart was current at 20th October 2005 You are encouraged to check the various search engines yourself to ensure the validity of the data. Please email me any updated information to include!

Search Engine features

I have tried to mention as many different features as possible, and I hope that they're obvious. However, I've also added below an explanation of them.


The league table

Having compared the different search engines I thought it might be a bit of fun to rank them. This is very unscientific (I mainly added up the Yes's and took account of updating and the size of the database), but I think its reasonably accurate and reflects my own experiences. So, for what its worth, here's the league table, with points assigned to give you an indication of how they match up. It's not really a fair test, but was interesting, at least to me!

Exalead 23 points Excellent all round search engine that does very well in almost every single category
Yahoo! 21 points Another great engine, let down slightly by its display of results
AltaVista 18 points It might be old, but it can still do the business
Google 16 points Surprisingly poor result, losing out because of it's inflexibility
MSN Search 16 points Getting there, but still has a way to go
Teoma 9 points Let down by its limited search options
Icerocket 7 points Better at searching blogs than the web
Wisenut 1 point Good for categories, very little else

If you're interested, you can compare the current ranking with the previous version of this article written in 2003, 2001 or even a few years before that!.

Multi-search engines.

Now you've had a chance to look at some single search engines, you might want to have a look at some multi-search engines by going to http://www.philb.com/msengine.htm


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This page last updated on October 2005. Contents © Phil Bradley.