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This is a guide to two of the most common ways of finding something on the Internet: search engines and Internet directories, also known as web directories.

The Internet is quite large. According to Internet Live Stats, at this moment - 10:13 pm EST on May 24, 2019 - there are 1,688,840,586 websites on the Internet, and that number went up by 400 in the time that it took me to write that sentence. While I won't vouch for the accuracy of these statistics, I am sure that the actual number is quite large.

When it comes to finding something on the Internet, most people use search engines and the most commonly used search engine is Google. Also according to Internet Live Stats, the number of Google searches so far today is greater than 6,000,000,000, and I can't give a specific number because the number changes so quickly that by the time I can write it down, the number has increased by hundreds.

Web directories, on the other hand, aren't used nearly as often as search engines, and there are probably a lot of people who have never used a web directory. Yet, while most of the results found on the first two pages of a typical search engine results are likely to be irrelevant to the search that is being conducted, a well-organized search directory will include only sites that are relevant to the topic of the categories they are placed in. Nevertheless, it may be quicker to do a search on a search engine than drilling down to the topic you are looking for in a web directory, even if you have to look through several pages of results before you find something useful to you..

What are the differences between search engines and web directories? Both search engines and web directories are tools that people can use to find information on the Internet. The difference is in how they get their information, and how it is organized.

Search engines use small automated programs known as search engine spiders or bots that crawl the Internet, following links, and gathering information about each of the pages that they visit. This information is then added to the search engines database or indexed, where links to the indexed pages may be presented in response to user search queries according to an algorithm that changes frequently and may differ from one search engine to the next.

Reputable web directories, on the other hand, are put together by people, usually known as directory editors, who visit enough pages of each listed site to determine whether it is a useful resource and, if so, which category it should be placed in, and then a description of the site is included.

Search engines use a complex algorithm to determine which site listings to present to a user who has instituted a search query, while web directories use a hierarchical structure of categories and subcategories to list each site in the category that is the most specific to its overall topic.

Search engines and web directories are different in technology and practice, but they both serve the same purpose, which is to help their users find a site that is of interest to them. Both are valid methods of finding information, and there are pros and cons to each.

The topic of this category is searching the Internet. Websites that discuss multiple ways of finding information on the Internet may be submitted to this category, as may those that discuss both search engines and web directories. However, those whose focus is on search engines should be submitted to the Search Engines subcategory or one of its subcategories, while those with a focus on Internet directories should be submitted to the Internet Directories subcategory or one of its subcategories.


Internet Directories

Search Engines



Feature Article

Internet Research: Using Search Tools


The World Wide Web is a huge repository of information stored on computers all over the world, and the Internet is an enormous global network of interconnected smaller networks. When we go online, we are using the Internet to connect to information on the Web.

As the amount of information on the Internet grows, finding the information we're looking for can be a challenge. Although several search tools have identified large portions of the visible Web, adding information from these pages to their databases, the larger portion of the Web is not indexed by search engines, and an even larger part of the Web is not accessible to the general public.

Knowing where to find, and how to use the available tools can allow us to better access the visible part of the Web. A large variety of search tools are available, including directories and search engines.

Besides directories, search tools can be divided into four major categories: traditional (general) search engines, metasearch engines, specialized (niche) search engines, and social media search engines. Search engines are not interchangeable. Every search engine uses a proprietary or individual algorithm, which determines which results to display to the searcher, and the order in which they are displayed, and traditional search engines, and some of the others, maintain separate databases of information.

A traditional search engine allows us to locate web pages that are included in its database, also known as an index. An automated program, known as a spider, crawls the Web, largely moving from one page to another by following links found on these pages. Textual information from these pages, known as keywords, are stored in the search engine's index.

When a user enters a query in a search engine, the words that are used in the query become keywords, and the search engine algorithm uses these keywords and those found in its index to recommend pages on the Web that it considers to be relevant to the search. Some search engines are much better at this than others, and there are some that can even search audio or video, although that technology is still in the infant stages.

Of significance is that, while there are some parts of the visible Web that are so prominent that they are likely to be included in the indexes of every traditional search engine, but there are other parts of the Web that may be included in one search engine, but not others.

Metasearch engines allow users to search multiple search indexes through a single query. Other than that, they serve the same purpose and are used in the same manner. A metasearch engine will allow a user to access parts of the Web that are not included in the index of any one traditional search engine, but the reality is that the better search engines are often excluded from a metasearch because they charge fees that the metasearch provider may be unwilling to pay.

While some niche search engines use metasearch technology to render results that are focused on a specific subject area or type of information, others are specialized search engines that are able to access information that is invisible to traditional search engines because it is stored in proprietary databases, reference sites, or specialty directories that require the payment of a fee or permitted access, such as library, governmental, or institutional databases.

Most of the information stored on the Web is in an invisible area, known as the deep web. To access this information, a user must use a unique search interface on specific sites, many of which are not listed in traditional search engines or directories.

Social media search engines allow users to access content created by large numbers of people on various social media platforms, which may include online forums, photo and video sharing sites, question and answer sites, newsgroups, news sites, and interactive media like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Although some of these sites are crawled by traditional search engines, they don't often appear in the search engine result pages.

Before you begin a search on the Internet, you must first decide what it is that you're looking for, and how to find it. If you begin your online search with neither a plan or a strategy, you are likely to receive several pages of irrelevant or useless results.

First, you must define your topic and make note of initial keywords to use during your search. What do you hope to accomplish?

If you don't know a lot about your topic, it would make sense to begin with an encyclopedia or another reference. Once you have an idea of your general topic, you might try a directory, as a well managed web directory will give you some handpicked sites that are relevant to your topic. The directory may lead you to the sources you need to complete your research. If not, you will now have enough information to refine your search.

When you think about your topic, which keywords immediately come to mind? What are some common keywords used in the references you have already evaluated? Think in terms of words and phrases, not proper sentences.

Next, you will need to choose the proper search tool. Use the search tool that you believe to be best suited to to finding whatever it is that you're looking for. If you need specific information, a traditional search engine or a metasearch tool may give you the results you are looking for. Information not normally tracked by traditional search engines might be found through specialized search engines. Informed opinion, product comparisons, and public comment can be found through a search of the social media. Some specialized searches may require the payment of a fee or a membership.

Once you have decided on a search tool, you will need to translate your question into an effective search query. This where you will use the keywords that you have previously considered. To begin with, use the keywords or key phrase that best describes your topic. You can also combine keywords with search operators and parentheses for greater accuracy, but not search engine recognizes the same operators, so you will need to consult the online documentation that may be available on each of those you use.

Perform your search by entering your keywords or key phrase into the query field, and begin the search. Some search engines take longer than others, but most are almost immediate.

Evaluate the results that you have received. The quantity and quality of results will differ from one search engine to another, and from one search to another. Even among traditional search engines, one might be good for one type of search while another might yield better results for another.

Casual searchers rarely look beyond the first page or two of the search engine results pages, but those who are looking for as much relevant information as possible might look far beyond that. However, to begin with, rather than searching through a hundred pages of mostly irrelevant results, it would make sense to consider refining your search.

Review the first couple of pages of results. Are they relevant to what you are looking for? Are they credible? Is the information current? A common variable that search engine algorithms use in determining the value of a web page is the length of time that it has been on the Internet. As a consequence, the information on the first page of the results might be outdated.If you don't know a lot about your topic, it would make sense to begin with an encyclopedia or another reference. Once you have an idea of your general topic, you might try a directory, as a well managed web directory will give you some handpicked sites that are relevant to your topic.

If the quality and quantity of results is unsatisfactory, return to an earlier step and use some of the additional keywords that are relevant to your search. Fine-tune your search query, and evaluate the new results. If they are still unsatisfactory, try another search tool. If that doesn't help, you might need to reevaluate your keywords. They may be either too general or too specific. Try a synonym. Sometimes, it can be helpful to return to your original research to learn more about your topic, and to identify more appropriate keywords.

When you are constructing a search with more than one keyword, it sometimes helps if they are in the form of a phrase rather than appearing independently on the results page. Many search engines will recognize phrase searching when the phrase is surrounded by quotation marks. For example, if you are researching nuclear fusion, on some search engines a search for “nuclear fusion” will render better results than if the quotation marks were absent. However, other search engines will treat the query the same, with or without the quotation marks.

Don't be afraid to try different search engines. When using a metasearch, unless it is a niche search tool relevant to your topic, you are likely to have better results with one that uses data from as many of the major search engines as possible.

You will probably find one search engine that you prefer to the others, but that will probably not be the best choice for every type of a search that you will conduct. Don't let search engine loyalty get in the way of good results.

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