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What's the Best Search Engine?

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What's the best search engine? That depends on who (or what) you ask. Here's what the search engines themselves recommend.

Whenever I'm asked to name the "best" search engine or my favorite search engine, I deliberately dissemble. Like just about everyone else these days, I use Google a lot, but I also find that using a wide variety of search tools is essential if you're serious about getting the best possible search results.

One of the best resources to help you choose the best search engine for your particular needs is Debbie Abilock's Choose the Best Search Engine, which has been around since 1996.

But what do the search engines say about each other? I tried two different queries on AlltheWeb, AltaVista, Google, Looksmart's Wisenut, Lycos, MSN Search and Teoma to find out. The queries: "best search engine," and "search engine."

I opted to run the queries without quotation marks, because I found that several search engine optimization firms had managed to get very high rankings for the phrases "best search engine placement" or "best search engine ranking." I also skipped over paid links and directory listings to the algorithmic results provided by each engine.

This test was run on Friday, May 30th. Click the links below to run the queries yourself.

The first query: best search engine. I had a dual purpose with this query. First, I wanted to see what search engines were listed in the results. Second, since there are hundreds of links pointing to Debbie Abilock's page mentioned above, I would expect that to be in the top ten, as well. Even though the page has moved, I would expect the results to contain the original or new URL for the page.

AlltheWeb: #1 result was Google. Abilock's article was #4. Several speciality search engines were also listed. Oddly, #6 was a link to Snap, the search portal that closed in early 2001.

AltaVista: No major search engines listed in the top ten. Result #1 was for a search engine submission and optimization service. Abilock's article was #6.

Google: #1 result was Google. #2 was Abilock's article. #3 was Metacrawler, #5 was AltaVista, #7 Profusion, #9 Copernic, and #10 Google UK.

Wisenut: #1 Google, #2 Abilock's article. #4 proved to be surprising: www.466453.com. Never heard of it? Me either, so I ran a whois and discovered it is a fully functional mirror of Google. #5 Dogpile, and #6 AltaVista.

MSN Search: Results are different here, because the top ten results are directory listings. #11 was Abilock's article, #12 Google, #13 Dogpile, #14 Metacrawler, #15 Copernic.

Teoma: #1 Google. Like AlltheWeb, Teoma returned Snap as #5. Abilock's article was #6. Lycos was #10.

Virtually all of the results contained links to search engine optimization firms, and it was fairly clear in a number of cases that others achieved high rankings due to clever optimization efforts.

I next tried just the words "search engine" to see what simple relevance ranking, without the addition of the adjective "best" would return.

AlltheWeb: #2 Google, #3 AltaVista, #4 Lycos, #5 Dogpile, #6 Yahoo, #10 WebCrawler.

AltaVista: #1 AltaVista, #2 Google, #4 Yahoo, #5 Search.com, #6 AlltheWeb, #7 Lycos, #8 Teoma.

Google: #1 AltaVista, #2 My Excite, #3 Google, #4 Yahoo, #5 Lycos, #6 HotBot, #7 AlltheWeb, #8 WebCrawler, and #10 the defunct Infoseek, which redirects to Disney's Go Network.

Wisenut: #3 Google, #10 AltaVista.

MSN Search: All 15 results on the first page were web directory results, rather than Inktomi served search engine results.

Teoma: #1 Yahoo, #2 Excite, #3 Looksmart, #4 WebCrawler, #5 Dogpile, #6 Lycos, #7 AltaVista, #8 Metacrawler, #9 Google, #10 Overture.

So, what's the best search engine? Even the search engines themselves can't agree. I don't think you can draw a definitive conclusion from the results of this simple test.

More importantly, I think the test illustrates a key point that I like to make often: Search engines differ from one another more than most people think. Each has a unique index of pages, and differing relevance algorithms. Because of this, you often get very different results using the same query words on different engines. If you're not finding what you're looking for, stop banging away on your "favorite" and try another engine!

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NOTE: Article links often change. In case of a bad link, use the publication's search facility, which most have, and search for the headline.

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