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Search Assistance Features

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The major search engines have many features meant to assist beginning searchers, and even professional researchers may find these aids helpful. This page summarizes and illustrates some of the major search assistance features that are available.

Select a topic below to jump to any section directly
Related Searches - Clustering - Find Similar - Stemming - Search Within
Spidered Version - Search By Language - Page Translation - Porn Filter
Customize Results - Sort By Date - Date Range - Date Display
Advanced Search Pages - Help Pages


Related Searches

A related searches feature is designed to help users narrow in on what they are looking for. For example, let's say you searched for "mars." When the results appeared, you might also be shown some related searches links, such as "mission to mars" or "life on mars." If you selected one of these links, a new search would be conducted, using the words you clicked on. This can help you be more specific in your query, which often leads to better results.

AltaVista

Displays related searches near the top of the results page, next to the words "Others searched for."

AllTheWeb.com

Displays related searches near the top of the results page, next to the words "Narrow your search."

MSN Search

Displays related searches in the "Popular Topics" area below the search box, on the results page.

Yahoo

At Yahoo, related searches appear at the bottom of its results page.


Clustering

Have you ever done a search and found the top results all seem to come from one site? Clustering prevents this. Clustering generally allows only one or two pages per site to be represented in the top results. This means that you get more variety and a better chance of quickly finding something of interest. The section below highlights how this feature works at the major services that offer it.

AltaVista

AltaVista clusters listings so that no more than two pages per site appear in its results. If a second page from a particular web site is listed, it will be indented under the first page. To see more results from a site, select the "Additional relevant pages from this site" link, if it appears for a particular listing.

AllTheWeb.com

Clustering is on by default and will prevent more than two pages from the same web site from being displayed. It can be overridden by changing the Site Collapsing option on the Search Customization page (see the Customizing Results section below). You can also view more pages from any particular site listed by selecting the "more hits from" link that follows the listing.

Google

Google clusters so that no more than two pages per site appear in its results. If a second page is listed, it will be "indented" under the first page. To see more results from a site, select the "More results from" link that will appear below the second page listed.

HotBot

At HotBot, clustering is on by default. However, it only works within the listings provided by Inktomi. To turn off clustering, go to the advanced search page, then in the "Best Page Only" section, check the "Disable Best Page Only Filter" box. You can also view more pages from any particular site listed by selecting the "See results from this site only" link that follows the listing.

MSN Search

Clustering at MSN Search has to be enabled from its advanced search page. Look for the "Show one result per domain" option and select it to start clustering.


Find Similar

Did you find a web page in the search results that seemed perfect -- it was exactly what you were looking for? A "Find Similar" feature tells the search engine to seek out other pages that seem similar to those you like. The section below highlights how this feature works at the major services that offer it.

AltaVista

Click on the "Related pages" link that appears at the bottom of each listing.

AOL Search

Click on the "Show me more like this" option that appears at the bottom of each page listed. This takes you to where that page is categorized within the version of the Open Directory that AOL users. That can help you find similar web sites.

AltaVista

Click on the "Similar pages" link that appears at the end of each listing.


Stemming

Stemming is the ability for a search engine to search for variations of a word based on its stem. For example, entering "swim" might also find "swims" and maybe "swimming," depending on the search engine.

The Search Features Chart shows which search engines will do stemming by default and those that allow it to be switched on as an option. Some search engine specific notes are also below.

Inktomi

Inktomi-powered HotBot & MSN Search) provide stemming as an option. To enable it, go to the advanced search pages of each search engine, then

  • At HotBot, check the "Enable Word Stemming" box.
  • At MSN Search, see below.

MSN Search

This appears to be on permanently, at least for some queries. For example, a search for "run," "runs" and "running" in Oct. 2001 found the same results. Oddly, using the "Enable Stemming" box on MSN Search's advanced search page actually causes no results to appear.


Search Within

Ever do a search and still feel like you have too many results? Instead of trying a new search, you might have more luck narrowing down the set of matches you've already generated. Some search engines make this easy through a "Search Within" feature. The section below highlights how this feature works at the major services that offer it.

AltaVista

After performing a search, check the "Search within these results" box under the search box, on the results page.

Google

After performing a search, click on the "Search within results" link that appears at the bottom of the results page, next to the search box, on the results page.

HotBot

After performing a search, check the "Search within these results" box that appears n, next to the search box, on the results page.

LookSmart

You cannot search within results generated from a keyword search on the LookSmart home page. However, if you navigate to any particular category, you can then search for matching sites that appear only within that category and its subcategories. To do this, when in a category, change the drop down box at the top of the category page from "the Web" to the second option, which will be the name of the category you are in.

Lycos

At Lycos, choose the "Search these results" option which appears next to the search box, at the top of the results page.

Yahoo

At Yahoo, you can't run a search and then search within it. But you can go to any category and then choose to search just within that section. Just look for the appropriate options near the search boxes that appear within the categories.


Spidered Version

It can be helpful to see the exact version of a web page that was presented to a search engine's spider. This is good for those times when a page no longer exists, allowing you to still find the information. It's also essential if you want to determine if a search engine spider was shown something different than what a human user sees. In fact, some webmasters may "pagejack" someone else's web page, feeding it to a search engine in hopes of attaining a good ranking. For more information about this, see the pagejacking section of the Search Engines and Legal Issues page.

Only Google allows you to see the actual page it spidered, through its "Cached" feature. When you search, a "Cached" link may appear below some pages that are listed. Click on this, and you'll be shown the page that was indexed, and any of your search terms will be highlighted.

You can also bring up the spidered version using Google's cache command. Simple enter the URL of a page after cache: and omitting the http:// prefix. For instance, to see the cached version of this page, you would enter this into Google:

cache:searchenginewatch.com/facts/assistance.html


Search By Language

Sometimes you may want to find pages written in a particular language. For example, you might want travel advice about Paris written in French. If you search for "paris," you'll probably get many pages written in English, since the city is spelled the same way in English and French. However, with a search by language option, you can specify that only pages written in French should be returned.

Searching by language isn't perfect. Search engines generally use dictionaries of terms specific to different languages to identify a page's language when spidering it. That means pages with content written in several different languages may not be categorized properly. Additionally, because this is an automated process, it can suffer from the mistakes that any automated system may have.

The More About Countries And Languages article
available to Search Engine Watch members provides
additional information about how search engines
classify pages by language and country.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member

Below is how to search by language, at search engines that offer this feature.

AltaVista & AllTheWeb.com

Use the drop-down box that appears next to the search box on the home page and results page, to search in a particular language that's offered.

Google, Lycos

Use the advanced search page to search by language at these services.

MSN Search

Use the "Language" drop-down box on the advanced search page to search by language through Inktomi's crawler-based results.


Page Translation

Some search engines allow you to translate web pages they list into different languages. That's helpful if you see a page you are interested in but it is written in a language you don't understand. Below is how to do translation at search engines that offer this.

AltaVista & Lycos

Click on the "Translate" link that appears at the bottom of each listing.

Google

Click on the "Translate this page" link that appears next to the title of pages that are not in English, when using the main Google.com web site.


Porn Filter

Some search engines allow you to filter out pages that may lead to pornographic web sites or sites with content that might be considered offensive to some people. They generally do this by scanning pages for pornographic terms at the time they are indexed. "Block" lists and human review is also conducted.

Porn filters are not perfect, but they can be especially helpful if you are working with children and want to minimize the risk of them seeing sexually explicit or offensive terms in the results that appear.

For tips on enabling porn filters at several major search engines, please see the Kids Search Engines page within Search Engine Watch.


Customize Results

Wouldn't it be nice to see more than the 10 results at a time that are usually displayed at most search engines? Perhaps you might want to see just the titles of matching web pages. Some search engines allow you to customize your results in this way, usually via advanced search pages or from menu options. The Search Features Chart shows how many results are shown at each search engine by default and up to how many you can choose to see.

Below are links to special customization pages offered by some search engines:

AltaVista Customize Settings
http://www.altavista.com/cgi-bin/query?pref=res&stype=stext&Translate=on&sc=on

AllTheWeb
http://www.alltheweb.com/customize

Google
http://www.google.com/help/customize.html

MSN Search
http://search.msn.com/Preference.asp


Sort By Date

Sort by date sounds like a great idea, but there are big problems with dates on the web. Some web servers report incorrect dates or no dates at all.

For instance, Go's engineers estimated in 1998 (back when the search engine still existed) that only 70 percent of web servers returned the correct date, while 20 percent reported the current date, regardless of when the page was created or changed. The remaining 10 percent of the time, the web servers reported no date at all. Northern Light also found similar problems, as outlined in this article: Northern Light Adds Search Functions, Freshens Index.

Still, date sorting is a nice feature to have, and one that many professionals want. When you choose the option, they list pages with newer dates first. At MSN Search, you'll find this option on the advanced search page. Use the "Sort equally relevant results by" box.

Keep in mind that often when people want to sort by date, they are often trying to get the latest information on a news topic. In these case, it is better to use a news search engine. See the News Search Engines page for a list of these helpful services.

Also see:

It's Tough to Get a Good Date with a Search Engine
SearchDay, June 5, 2002
http://searchenginewatch.com/searchday/article.php/2160061

Search engines have problems with calendar information. Bottom line: you may end up searching for dates in all the wrong places.


Date Range

Some search engines let you restrict a search so that only pages within a particular date range are displayed. This feature can suffer from the fact that web page dates can be unreliable, as described above. However, it can also be useful, especially as a means of determining how fresh a search engine's listings are.

For example, if you restrict a search to find pages less than a month old and don't get any matches, you have a pretty good idea that the search engine's listings are out of date.

See the Search Features Chart for which search engines offer this option on their advanced search pages.


Date Display

Along with the page description, some search engines show the date when a web page was created or modified. As noted above, these dates may not always be reliable. However, they do provide a useful clue as to how fresh or stale a search engine's listings are. Thus, search engines that show a date deserve praise for doing so.

See the Search Features Chart for which search engines display a date. When no date is reported, these search engines above will instead display the date the page was spidered.

Northern Light is an exception. In these cases, it won't report a date at all.

Directories don't spider pages, but they can display when a listing was manually added or updated, if desired.


Advanced Search Page

Most of the search services have advanced search pages designed to let you have more control over your search or to guide you into creating more complex queries. However, these are sometimes hard to find. To help, here are links that will take you directly to each service's advanced search pages. Links were verified as of March 11, 2003:

AllTheWeb: Advanced Search
http://www.alltheweb.com/advanced

AltaVista: Advanced Web Search
http://www.altavista.com/web/adv

Google: Advanced Search
http://www.google.com/advanced_search

HotBot: Advanced Search
http://www.hotbot.com/adv.asp

NOTE: By default, this will be the advanced search page to get Inktomi results from HotBot. Change your search engine choice by using the options under the search box, and the advanced search page will change to suit the choice you've selected.

Lycos: Advanced Search Filters
http://search.lycos.com/adv.asp

MSN Search: Advanced Search Options
http://search.msn.com/advanced.aspx

Teoma: Advanced Search
http://s.teoma.com/AdvancedSearch

Yahoo: Advanced Search
http://search.yahoo.com/search/options


Help Pages

Many services provide more information on advanced searching techniques and features within their help pages. The links below will take you directly to them. Links were verified as of March 11, 2003:

AllTheWeb: Help & FAQ
http://www.alltheweb.com/help/

AltaVista: Search Help
http://www.altavista.com/help/search/default

AOL Search: Search Help
http://search.aol.com/aolcom/help.jsp

Ask Jeeves: Help
http://sp.ask.com/docs/help/

Google: Help Central
http://www.google.com/help/

HotBot: Help
http://help.lycos.com/LycosHelp/help/hotbot/htdocs/hotbot_1_help.htm

Lycos Help
http://help.lycos.com/LycosHelp/help/search/htdocs/search_1_help.htm

Teoma: Basic Search Tips
http://sp.teoma.com/docs/teoma/about/searchtips.html

Yahoo: Search Help
http://help.yahoo.com/help/us/ysearch/


More Resources

Search Engine Math
This teaches you the basic commands that are all most people need to improve their searches.

Power Searching For Anyone
This teaches you advanced commands to help you better control your searches.

Search Features Chart
Designed for searchers, an at-a-glance look at common commands and features.

Search Engine Tutorials
Links to articles and web sites that offer help with using search engines.

Search Engine Reviews
Links to reviews about the major search engines, in terms of how effective they are.


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