Home / Reference / Web Search Engines & Directories

Web Search Engines & Directories

Vangie Beal
Last Updated May 24, 2021 8:00 am

Microsoft’s Bing, Google, Yahoo, Ask.com, Business.com … if you’re looking for information on the Web, there are a number of search engines from to choose. They are all different, yet they have inherent similarities.

According to a 2007 report by Netcraft, 108,810,358 distinct Web sites make up the World Wide Web. When you want to find out more about a specific topic, service or product, you use an Internet search engine. Today there are a number of search engines, and while they work differently, they all use Webcrawlers (also called bots) that are designed to index pages on the Web and also words found on these pages. The indexing of the Web enables is what enables users to search for keywords or combinations of words to find information online.

Other types of search engines are called search directories. They site index content chosen by human editors, rather than automated indexing done by bots. Today most search engines offer complementary search-related products such as shopping search, news and other services that go beyond the basic keyword search function.

The following Quick Reference provides an overview of some of the more popular public Web Search Engines and Directories, including details on their history, information on how they work and tips for using each.

Current Page (Bing, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft Live)
Page 2 (Alta Vista, Ask.com, AOL Search)
Page 3 (Business.com, Dogpile, Cuil)


Bing is a new search engine from Microsoft that was launched on May 28, 2009. Microsoft calls it a “Decision Engine,” because it’s designed to return search results in a format that organizes answers to address your needs. When you search on Bing, in addition to providing relevant search results, the search engine also shows a list of related searches on the left-hand side of the search engine results page (SERP). You can also access a quick link to see recent search history. Bing uses technology from a company called Powerset, which Microsoft acquired.

Bing launched with several features that are unique in the search market. For example, when you mouse-over a Bing result a small pop-up provides additional information for that result, including a contact e-mail address if available. The main search box features suggestions as you type, and Bing’s travel search is touted as being the best on the net. Bing is expected to replace Microsoft Live Search.

Bing Search Tips:

  • You can search for feeds using feeds: before the query
  • To search Bing without a background image use http://www.bing.com/?rb=0
  • To turn the background image back on, use http://www.bing.com/?rb=1
  • To change the number of search results returned per page, click “Extras” (on top-right of page) and select “Preferences”. Under Web Settings / Results you can choose 10, 15, 30 or 50 results
  • Bing Search Page


Today Google is the largest public Internet search engine, in terms of indexed content and number of users. Company founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin initially collaborated on a search engine called BackRub that had the capability to analyze the back links pointing to a given Web site. With financial backing, in 1998 the founders opened Google. By 2000 Google was handling more than 100 million search queries a day, and by 2004 Google claims the site index reached 4.28 billion Web pages.

Google’s search engine crawler, called the GoogleBot, travels from Web page to Web page following hyperlinks. When a new page is found, Googlebot will also crawl all the hyperlinks on that page as well. A second bot also crawls indexed pages to keep the index updated. As pages are indexed, they are also given scores based on criteria like how many times words are displayed (density), link popularity, HTML code, themes, content (the text) and more. These scores are what determines where the Web page listing appears in the search results.

Google also offers content-specific searches for Blogs, Books, Video, Images, Maps, Local, Mobile and country-specific searches. It is much more than search. It’s blogging, mapping, hopping, research and more. Use this Webopedia Google Products & Services Quick Reference to get a grip on Google and its many services.

Google Search Tips:

  • You can search for a phrase by using quotations [“like this”] or with a minus sign between words [like-this].
  • You can search by a date range by using two dots between the years [2004..2007].
  • When searching with a question mark [?] at the end of your phrase, you will see sponsored Google Answer links, as well as definitions if available.
  • Google searches are not case sensitive.
  • By default Google will return results which include all of your search terms.
  • Google automatically searches for variations of your term, with variants of the term shown in yellow highlight.
  • Google lets you enter up to 32 words per search query.
  • Google Search Page


Founded in 1994 by David Filo and Jerry Yang, Yahoo was initially a directory of Web sites categorized by human editors, a directory for which it is still most well-known for today. Over time Yahoo began acquiring search companies and combining the technologies. In 2004 Yahoo acquired the Overture pay-per-click service (which had bought AltaVista and AlltheWeb), as well as the Inktomi search database and others. These search technologies and tools combined makes yahoo what it is today, making Yahoo’s infamous directory search secondary to its main search engine.

The Yahoo Search index is made up of billions of Web pages, which are populated by a Web crawler. When Yahoo crawls pages it takes several factors into consideration. The search terms included in the page’s Title and Description tag, page content (the text), keyword density, inbound hyperlinks and so on. Yahoo has also started using page rank technologies and also takes Yahoo Directory listings and paid inclusions into consideration when indexing and ranking pages. Users can submit their own pages directly to the Yahoo Search index and the Yahoo Directory, and also submit products for inclusion in Yahoo Shopping. Yahoo has also incorporated special search and services such as Webmail, Local, video, images, shopping and news search products.

Yahoo Search Tips:

  • By default Yahoo returns results that include all of your search terms
  • To exclude words use a minus sign [cat -tabby] would show all results about cats with no mention of tabby.
  • Yahoo search results also shows related searches, which are based on other searches by users with similar terms
  • To search for a map, use map [location]
  • To search for dictionary definitions use “define” [define harddrive]
  • To search a single domain use site [site:www.webopedia.com DVD] would search Webopedia for the term DVD.
  • Yahoo Search Page

Windows Live Search

Microsoft’s search engine, Windows Live Search offers a huge improvement over MSN Search and is also integrated into Microsoft’s Live.com. When it launched September 12, 2006, it was a new search engine built from scratch using a new algorithmic engine that was integrated throughout Windows Live and MSN. Some of the features of Windows Live Search include a nice feature-rich interface something new and unique in the Web search space. By signing in to a personalized Live search you can add feeds and subscribe to search results. Windows Live Search also incorporates specific searches for images, news, academic journals, RSS feeds, maps and more.

Live Search technologies attempt to overcome some elements of human error, such as spelling errors, punctuation and synonyms and also predicts with the intent of providing the best search results possible for users. To improve ranking in Microsoft Live Search you can mark your front page as accessible to those with specialist settings on their browser, keyword density is a factor, include an HTML site map and also use a distinct list of keyword meta tags for each page on your site.

Windows Live Search Tips:

  • Common words such as a, and, and the are ignored unless they’re enclosed by quotation marks.
  • Category lists may appear on the top of search results – you can click a category to see only the results associated with that category.
  • If using a date in your search query, type the name of the month instead of the calendar number.
  • To define something, use define followed by the word [define DVD] will show definitions for DVD.
  • You can enter up to 150 characters in the search box.

Based in Nova Scotia, Vangie Beal is has been writing about technology for more than a decade. She is a frequent contributor to EcommerceGuide and managing editor at Webopedia. You can tweet her online @AuroraGG.

This article was originally published on June 19, 2009