UK Search Engines

Updated February 2008

Summary

This article provides an overview of existing UK search engines, together with a comparison chart. It was written to provide searchers with a little more information about which search engine(s) to consider using when they have a UK specific query. I have also included my own personal view of which are the best ones to use, and why.

A list of all UK and United Kingdom search engines

If you need a list of all of the UK and United Kingdom search engines that cover England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland you can check out my list of United Kingdom Search Engines page. Alternatively, if you want to save yourself some time, you can just search the majority of them for whatever is of interest to you about the Britain from the search box below:

Why use a UK specific search engine?

The simple answer is that using a global search engine such as Google even if you choose very specific search terms you will end up with literally thousands of matches. It is of course possible to limit this with some search engines, but there are times when a smaller, geographically specific engine may make more sense. To provide you with a quick demonstration of this, I ran two searches on Google UK, the first time to just give me a total result, the second time to limit the results to UK domains. I chose a phrase "Phil Bradley", partly because I've a fairly good idea when that name occurs on the web (can't imagine why!), and a single term "Everton" since it is a reasonably unusual term and is very UK based, being as it is the greatest football team in the country; well, I like to think so anyway! For the sake of consistency I also ran searches on the UK engines that I looked at to compare the results.
Searching on "Phil Bradley" gave me 65,500 results and restricting to the UK gave me 22,000 results. Searching "Everton" gave me 14,800,000 responses, and when I limited to the UK I got 595,000 results. Now, I certainly could have then waded my way through the results, but in this case, as with many others, it is clearly going to take a lot more time than I have available. Using a more specific search engine may well give a tighter and more focussed result.

Which search engine to use?

I am not going to try and pretend that this is a scientific study, since it isn't. I located a number of search engines which were specific to the UK, but which were also general in nature. Consequently, I ignored some very useful engines which were not only geographically specific, but also subject specific.
All of the information that I have included was obtained directly from the sites themselves, however in some instances the details about the engines was so poor that I was unable to find all the answers that I wanted. If you find out more information yourself, I'd be delighted if you could email me and let me know. However, a lack of answers is in itself quite useful; the more blanks against a search engine, the more they tell you inadvertently, and I for one am very wary of using a piece of software which does not clearly state its purpose, methodology, background, or in some instances does not even provide a help screen!

I have run this comparison several times in the past; the first time that I ran this comparison, in January 1998 I included G.O.D. (Global Online Directory) and UKSearch, but unfortunately, both of these fell by the wayside. Running this search again in October 2000 I dropped Euroferret, and the UK Cybersearch engine seemed to have vanished. In their place I put in the UK version of Altavista and UK Max and included Lycos UK and the UK Directory. In 2003 the list that I used was:

Of those engines Excite is still in existence, as is UKIndex, although it's turned more into an index based engine. UKPlus is best described by that old fashioned word 'portal'. AltaVista was taken over by Yahoo and now uses their database. Mugomilk no longer exists, Yahoo UK obvious does, Lycos is still in existence and Dogpile is still up and running. However, because there are now so many more options available, I decided to start the list from scratch.

The 2008 UK Search Engine choices

I decided that I wanted a mix of the big engines, as well as a mix of some of the smaller ones. Consequently I decided to go for Ask UK, Google UK, and Yahoo UK as representative of the major engines. Live was not included because they did not provide me with a quick and easy way to limit to just the UK. For the 'smaller' engines I went with Exalead, Mojeek, Excite UK

The comparative chart

For ease of reading, and printing out, I have divided the chart into two sections; 3 search engines each. The grouping is entirely arbitrary, and should not be taken to imply any kind of ranking system; you'll need to read my conclusion to find that out! If you want more information about the individual features themselves I have additional information at the end.

Features Exalead Ask UK Mojeek
Search News NO YES NO
Search Images YES YES NO
Search Newsgroups NO NO NO
Search multimedia YES YES NO
Search blogs NO YES NO
Fast Answers? NO YES NO
Directory/Freetext/Both? Free text Free text Free text
Blended/Universal results NO YES NO
Help screen? NO NO NO
Focus search YES YES NO
Reviews/Abstract/Summary Abstract Abstract Abstract
Boolean operators YES YES YES
Proximity searching YES NO NO
Truncation YES NO NO
Search by category YES YES NO
Phrase searching YES YES YES
File format, limit by YES NO NO
Limit by date YES YES NO
Site specific search? YES YES YES
Document size SOMETIMES NO YES (default off)
Document date SOMETIMES NO NO
Geographic limitation YES YES UK/World wide only
Advanced search YES YES YES
Personalise option? YES YES YES (personal search engine)
Save RSS feeds NO NO NO
Portal NO NO NO
Refine YES YES NO
Parentheses YES NO NO
Sort results ALL or RECENT NO YES
Search suggestions? NO YES NO
Number of hits returned YES YES YES
"Phil Bradley" UK/World 1,159 / 7,547 68,400 / 21,100 * 2,048 / 14,022
"Everton" UK/World 246,275 / 1,711,552 3,975,000 / 7,078,000 19,857 / 19,857 *

* No, these are not typos, these are the results that I got. Clearly they are not as they should be.

Features Google UK Excite UK Yahoo UK
Search News YES YES YES
Search images YES YES YES
Search Newsgroups YES NO NO
Search multimedia YES YES YES
Search blogs YES NO NO
Fast Answers? Varied NO NO
Directory/Freetext/Both? Both Both Both
Blended/Universal results YES NO NO
Help screen? YES NO NO
Focus search NO NO YES
Reviews/Abstract/Summary Abstract Abstract Abstract
Boolean operators YES YES YES
Proximity searching NO NO NO
Truncation YES NO NO
Search by category NO NO NO
Phrase searching YES YES YES
File format, limit by YES NO YES
Limit by date YES NO 3/6 months or year
Site specific search? YES NO YES
Document size YES NO YES
Document date Varied NO NO
Geographic limitation YES UK/Worldwide YES
Advanced search YES NO YES
Personalise option? YES YES YES
Save RSS feeds YES NO NO
Portal NO YES YES
Refine YES NO YES
Parentheses NO NO YES
Sort results NO NO NO
Search suggestions? NO (only in Google Labs) NO YES
Number of hits returned YES YES YES
"Phil Bradley" UK/World 22,200 / 65,500 3,260 / 11,400 132,000 / 446,000
"Everton" UK/World 595,000 / 14,800,000 2,568,000 / 6,311,000 19,600,000 / 43,100,000
This table updated 12th February 2008. Please let me know of any errors and I'll correct them!

Conclusions.

The results were not really that surprising. There were basically three 'leagues' of results - Google and Yahoo ahead of the rest, Ask and Exalead next and Excite and Mojeek trailing very far behind. In my totally unscientific test, of awarding points when I felt it appropriate, the top two tied on 23 points, Ask had 20 points, Exalead 19, Excite 9 and Mojeek 8. Google did very well in terms of functionality and flexibility, but Yahoo was superior in terms of the numbers of results it returned. Exalead also has excellent search functionality, in several cases better than any of the others at all, but the smaller database of results let it down slightly. Ask is a good all round performer, with particularly emphasis on the blended approach and the quick answers.
It would have been easy to have added in functionality that was appropriate to one engine and not the others, but in practical terms this was simply not possible. All of the larger engines had elements that I included because they were appropriate, and each engine had things that were left out, so I'm taking the line that it all evens itself out in the end.

Explanation of features

Search Newsgroups/News/Images/Multimedia/Blogs

Quite obviously, all the search engines searched the WWW, but that is only part of the Internet. Usenet Newsgroups can also turn out to be a useful source of information, and any search engine which also gives you the option of searching them has to be more flexible.

Directory/Freetext/both

Does it look like Yahoo! used to look, or Google, or a combination?

Fast answers

Do you get any potted information above the search results? This can be useful if you just want to check a quick fact. Ask is very good at that, and those other engines that do this tend to emphasis news information.

Focus search

A searcher is limited by their ability to tighten up on the results that they get, choose new keywords and so on. If they can't do that, or do not know a subject in enough detail the result is going to be a set of results which are often too broad, or which do not fully match the concepts that the searcher is looking for. As a result a number of search engines, are introducing ways of focussing the search further, using a variety of different methods to do this. Once again, its a valuable tool, but is not offered by all engines.

Reviews, Abstracts, Summaries

Reviews are generated by real people, surprisingly enough. Personally, I have little or no use for them; the reviewers generally seem to take the opportunity of indicating how clever, witty or erudite they are. They may however be of some use if you are keen to avoid sites with a controversial subject matter, but since we never know who the reviewers actually are, the review is only ever going to be a general guide.
Abstracts or summaries are usually computer generated, and their effectiveness relies on the web designer being effective, and ensuring that their opening sentence clearly defines the page content, or that the summary they produce when registering their URL with search engines includes appropriate terms and keywords.

Boolean operators

AND, OR, NOT are the usual ones, as I'm sure you're aware. The existence of this option tends to indicate that the developers of the search engine are doing their best to provide us with a more sophisticated and useful engine. A lack of operators drastically limits the searchers ability to find things quickly and easily. Some search engines will use a '+' or '-' to include/exclude words instead of actual terms.

Proximity searching

There is little point in retrieving a site using the terms 'Cattle breeding' and getting 'cattle' on the first line of the page and 'breeding' on the last line. Proximity allows you to further narrow your search, to just retrieving those pages on which the two terms are reasonably close together. Another valuable feature, and one we're used to with online and CD-ROM search engines, but sadly lacking in the majority of engines I looked at here.

Wildcards and Truncation

Two more useful features. None of the engines used wildcards, and only a few used truncation, which was a disappointing result.

Search by category

I use this to mean the difference between a free text search engine of the Altavista kind, and the index type used by Yahoo. I have also included the number of different categories that you see on the opening screen in brackets, but not sub categories to be found 'below' the initial opening screen.

Phrase searching

This is obviously an important feature, since it allows the user to focus searches tightly. It is a shame that more engines do not consider it important enough to include.

Document size/date

Again, useful pieces of information. If I am searching for current information there is no point in looking at a page which was last updated 6 months ago. Similarly, it is useful to know how big a page is going to be before going to it. It is a shame that more engines have not incorporated these features.

Geographic limitation

Since this is an article about UK databases, I wanted to make sure that it was possible to limit searches to just the UK, but also if they could be expanded out to Ireland, Europe or the rest of the world.

Advanced search

Is there an option to do an advanced search at the site.

Portal

Does the site have a variety of other options, such as free email, chat facilities, personalised pages and so on.

Refine

Can the search be refined once it has been run to narrow down the number of results obtained?

Parentheses

A sophisticated search engine should be able to run a search such as apple and (orange or pear)

Sort results

Can the results returned be sorted into any other order than the given default?

Save RSS feeds

Can you save your results as RSS

Number of hits returned

This should be expanded out to 'per page'. Most search engines as a default provide you with ten references, and you then have to click to get the next ten and so on. Some do however give you a little more flexibility in formatting the screen according to your own wishes. This is much more sensible than just attempting to show you all of the hits, since it will take a very long time for the page to download.

The 2003 version of this article is also available, as is the 2000 version of this article is also available. If you want, you can take a look at the 1999 version of this page, written in May 1999.


If you are reading this article as a printout, the URL is http://www.philb.com/ukengine.htm

This article last updated 12th February 2008. Please send me any updates or amendments. This article is © Phil Bradley, 2008.