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Definition

search engine

Contributor(s): Billy Watts

On the Internet, a search engine is a coordinated set of programs that includes:

  • A spider (also called a "crawler" or a "bot") that explores the Internet by following hyperlinks, starting with a core group of "seed" URLs covering major hubs.
  • A program that creates a huge index (or database) from the pages that have been read
  • A program that receives your search request, compares it to the entries in the index, and returns results to you

Google is the most widely used search engine in the world capturing about 92% of search users worldwide. Yahoo and Bing come in second at just over 2% each. DuckDuckGo has gained some popularity due to their focus on protecting user's private search data. Other popular search engines in the world are Baidu (China), Yandex (Russia), and Naver (South Korea).

Different Search Engine Approaches

  • Major search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo index the content of a large portion of the Web and allow users to query their index to find relevant pages.
  • Specialized content search engines may be more selective about what part of the Web is crawled and indexed.
  • Country specific search engines may prioritize in-language websites over English websites.
  • Individual Web sites, especially larger corporate sites, may use a search engine to index and retrieve the content of just their own site. Some of the major search engine companies license or sell their search engines for use on individual sites.

Where to Search

Google is the search engine of choice for most people in the world. The quality of their results tends to outshine their competitors. Search results are integrated with their other databases: Maps, News, Images, Gmail, and Videos (Google owns YouTube). Google has shifted over the years to providing results based strictly on popularity (links) to more of a focus on the user intent of queries.

Some users may prefer to use Bing or Yahoo for their other integrated offerings. Some users may prefer a site that prioritizes data privacy like DuckDuckGo.

How to Search

For tips on entering your search argument, see each search engine. Google has a helpful page on how to search.

This was last updated in October 2018

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