Search Engines with Autopilot

After the thrill of learning to fly has worn off, most experienced pilots turn the controls over to the autopilot, especially for frequently travelled routes. If you’re repeating the same query over time, you can both improve your results and take the drudgework out of searching by taking advantage of search engines that offer autopilot.

Known as “search alerts,” these services are different from many alerting services, because they give you a great deal of control over your queries. Most alerting services rely on simple keyword queries or recognizing physical changes to web pages. Alerting services from Northern Light and Profusion, on the other hand, let you create more powerful, customized alerts.

Northern Light Search Alerts send you email whenever Northern Light’s database has been updated with new documents that match your search terms. There are two ways to create an alert. The easiest is simply to save any search you run on Northern Light as an Alert, using the link provided at the top of every result page.

You’ll likely get better results, however, and sharply cut down on the amount of false drops if you sign on to the Search Alerts service. This gives you more control over your query, allowing you to create an alert that runs a simple search, a power search, business search, investext search or news search. Your search fields are slightly different for each type of search, so it’s important to choose a search type before entering your keywords.

For all types of search other than simple search, you can also limit your search to specific categories, and have results sorted either by relevance or by date and time. You can also limit your query to words in a document title, publication name or URL. These limits can be extremely useful for creating very narrow, targeted searches, assuring highly relevant results.

Once you’ve created your search, you can preview the results. If they aren’t satisfactory, you can fiddle with your settings until you get exactly what you want. That’s all there is to it.

When Northern Light’s database has been updated with Web sites or Special Collection articles that match your search terms, you will be sent an email containing a URL. To view your updated results, click this link. Northern Light stresses that it’s necessary to click on the URL that is sent in the email to see all sites that have been added since you last clicked on the search alert update.

For tracking new Web sites, news, or other current events, Northern Light Search Alerts are definitely worth a look. You need to have an account with Northern Light, but registering is free.

The metasearch engine Profusion lets you create a single search alert that is run every day on up to ten search engines. Although Profusion doesn’t give you the full range of limiting options that Northern Light does, you can nonetheless narrow your search by using the advanced search form.

This form allows you to apply limited Boolean operators, specify the overall number of results and number per source, and uniquely, perform a link check on the results to assure none of the links are broken. It also lets you choose which engines to search, including an option to use only those that Profusion determines to be the “best three” or “fastest three” for your query.

Once you run the search, you have two options for saving alerts. You can save the entire query, by clicking the “set search alert” link at the top of the result page. Alternately, you can monitor individual pages displayed in your result list by clicking the “set page alert” link next to the title of the page.

Profusion offers an Internet Explorer browser bar add-on that lets you easily create search alerts from any page that you’re currently viewing. Installing the “Alert Me!” button is as simple as dragging a link to your browser’s link bar. It’s a handy feature if you find yourself creating and managing lots of search alerts.

Both Northern Light and Profusion provide controls to edit or delete search alerts, so you can fine-tune or get rid of them altogether as your needs change over time.

The next time you’re slogging through a repetitive search, save yourself some time and effort by turning on the autopilot with search alerts from Northern Light or Profusion.

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