The Best and Most Popular Meta Search Engines

Updated: May 5, 2004

Meta search engines look pretty much the same up front, but their approach to presenting results varies widely. Here's a list of Search Engine Watch's pick of the best and most popular metas for searching the web.

In evaluating a meta search engine, the quality of results is obviously important. Because meta search engines query multiple sources, they can often cull the best results the web has to offer. But if they don't work well, they can also have a unpleasant multiplier effect, actually amplifying poor or irrelevant search results.

While quality of results is important, there are other key factors Search Engine Watch takes into consideration when evaluating any search service.

First, we prefer established services that have a degree of name recognition and reputation. We want to see some evidence of "sustainability," that a service we review today will still be around tomorrow.

Part of the way we do this is to check the link popularity of a site. But we also look for comprehensive "about us" information, including data about the company behind the engine, a list of the engines searched, the approach to handling queries and presenting results, and so on.

Even if a site isn't well known or doesn't have a lot of link popularity, if it serves quality results and provides convincing "about us" information we will give the site careful consideration.

Above all, meta search is true search, not just providing search forms for multiple engines. Some sites that call themselves meta search engines actually just list a wide-variety of search engines and allow you to search at your choice without having to go directly to that search engine. See the All-In-One Search Pages for a list of these type of resources.

We've organized our listings of meta search engines into three categories. "Top Choices" are superior services that meet all of the criteria above. "Popular Choices" meet most of the criteria above, but also serve paid placement links without the kind of full disclosure we (and the FTC) would like to see.

Finally, we list other meta search services that are competent, but don't meet all of our evaluation criteria. That list will appear in tomorrow's SearchDay.

Top Choices

iBoogie allows you to select results from the web, products or services from the "BuyWeb," or limit your queries to the deep web, images, video or audio. It also performs real-time clustering of results, creating a list of categories related to your search terms for easy browsing.

In a compact format, InfoGrid provides direct links to major search sites and topical web sites in different categories. Meta search and news searching is also offered.

Infonetware RealTerm Search
This site is primarily designed to demonstrate classification technology from Infogistics. It's a meta search engine, and it does topical classification of results. However, it is unique in that you can select several different topics, then "drill down" to see results from all of them, rather than being restricted to the results from only one topic.

Ithaki is probably the most "global" of all meta search engines, available in 14 languages and offering more than 35 different categories for limiting your search. In addition, Ithaki offers country specific search, querying only local search engines rather than the regional versions of the major search engines.

Meta search engine that ranks results based on the number of "top 10" rankings a site receives from the various search engines.

If you like the idea of seeing your web results visually, this meta search site shows the results with sites being interconnected by keywords. It also presents a thematic map that shows the most important sites and the linkage relationships among the various results.

Brings back listings from several major search engines as well as "Invisible Web" resources. Formerly based at the University of Kansas, the site was purchased by search company Intelliseek in April 2000.

Query Server
Search against major web-wide search engines, as well as major news, health, money and government search services.

SearchOnline is a relatively new service, but one that offers a highly flexible and customizable interface to a wide variety of information sources, ranging from general web results to specialized search resources in a number of subject specific categories.

Searches against major engines or provides those who open free accounts the ability to chose from a list of hundreds. Using the "SiteSnaps" feature, you can preview any page in the results and see where your terms appear in the document. Allows results or documents to be saved for future use. See also:

Hang Ten with SurfWax Metasearch
SearchDay, July 10, 2001
SurfWax is a metasearch engine with some powerful advanced features, including the ability to build your own customized gateways into the Invisible web.

Power Searching with SurfWax
SearchDay, July 11, 2001
We continue our look under the hood of SurfWax, a metasearch engine that offers some unique advanced features to registered users.

Enter a search term, and Vivismo will not only pull back matching responses from major search engines but also automatically organize the pages into categories. Slick and easy to use.

Popular Choices

Many of the meta search engines below are popular with users, but they aren't listed as top choices by Search Engine Watch. This is because they typically mix paid listings within editorial results, without any type of disclaimers. The article "Meta Search Or Meta Ads?" by Danny Sullivan covers this issue more. It also explains how you can control the ads you see and turn the metacrawlers listed into better resources, by making use of customization options.

Meta Search Or Meta Ads?
The Search Engine Report, June 4, 2001
A review of meta search services by Search Engine Watch shows that some are providing results where more than half of their listings are paid links. A guide to what's paid, what's not and how to get the most from your meta search service.

Popular metasearch site that sends a search to a customizable list of search engines, directories and specialty search sites, then displays results from each search engine individually. Owned by InfoSpace, which also owns MetaCrawler.

Formerly a crawler based search engine with its own index, it was transformed into a meta search engine when purchased by InfoSpace in 2001.

One of the oldest meta search services, MetaCrawler began in July 1995 at the University of Washington. MetaCrawler was purchased by InfoSpace, an online content provider, in Feb. 97.

Formerly a crawler based search engine using a much smaller subset of the Excite index, it was transformed into a meta search engine when purchased by InfoSpace in 2001.

See also:

The Big Four Meta Search Engines
SearchDay, September 17, 2002
Though there are dozens of useful meta search engines, InfoSpace is the industry gorilla, operating the four arguably best known and most heavily used properties.

Mamma is an unusual meta search engine in that it only searches a few major indexes -- the rest of the sites queried are directories or paid-placement services. is a meta search engine operated by CNET. It offers both web-wide search and a wide variety of specialty search options. uses technology from SavvySearch, which was acquired by CNET in October 1999. The SavvySearch site itself no longer operates. SavvySearch was one of the older metasearch services, around since May 1995 and formerly based at Colorado State University.

All-In-One Search Pages
Unlike metacrawlers, all-in-one search pages do not send your query to many search engines at the same time. Instead, they generally list a wide-variety of search engines and allow you to search at your choice without having to go directly to that search engine. See All-In-One Search Pages for a list of these type of resources.

Search Headlines

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.

Online portals news
Germany launches own web portal...
Ananova Sep 18 2002 1:06PM GMT
The Yahoo of Yore...
Fortune Sep 18 2002 11:43AM GMT
Online search engines news
The Benefits of a Yahoo Listing...
High Rankings Sep 18 2002 6:48AM GMT
LookSmart revises listing deals...
ZDNet Sep 17 2002 7:05PM GMT
Internet: international news
Napster assets draw more than a dozen bids...
Daily Mail & Guardian Sep 17 2002 4:01PM GMT
Online search engines news
Search engines in China face balancing act...
San Francisco Chronicle Sep 17 2002 5:34AM GMT
Google Uses Meta Tags Sparingly, But Should You? (Enough Already, Part 2)...
Traffick Sep 17 2002 3:30AM GMT
Web developer news
Content 2.0...
WebTechniques Sep 17 2002 2:26AM GMT
Online legal issues news
School Communities Give Internet Filtering Law Failing Grade...
Electronic Frontier Foundations Sep 17 2002 1:45AM GMT
Online portals news
Can Yahoo Do a Number on the Skeptics?...
Business Week Sep 17 2002 1:32AM GMT
Internet: international news
Web and State Face Off in China...
New York Times Sep 17 2002 1:14AM GMT
Domain name news
U.S. likely to renew ICANN's authority...
CNET Sep 16 2002 10:44PM GMT
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About the author

Chris Sherman is a frequent contributor to several information industry journals. He's written several books, including The McGraw-Hill CD ROM Handbook and The Invisible Web: Uncovering Information Sources Search Engines Can't See, co-authored with Gary Price. Chris has written about search and search engines since 1994, when he developed online searching tutorials for several clients. From 1998 to 2001, he was's Web Search Guide.