Do Search Engines Know Everything?

Using laptop on table
Aping Vision/STS/Photodisc/Getty Images

Many people mistakenly believe that search engines - which are basically extremely complicated database, search, and retrieval programs - can intuitively answer any question you put to them. Unfortunately, this is not true. You can't just type in a question when prompted by the ubiquitous "type your search here" and expect to get a reasonable answer.

While Web search has come a long way in the past decade, it's not quite up to reading minds (yet). Instead of typing in a long question for your next search engine query, try these tips instead:

  • Use keywords or keyphrases. Be as specific as possible.
  • Eliminate unnecessary words or punctuation. Most search engines don't even bother to recognize common words such as "and" or "the" anymore.
  • Use quotes. If you are looking for a specific phrase, use quotes so the phrase will be searched for as one entity instead of separate words. For example, "boston red sox" instead of boston red sox.

Now, that being said, there ARE search engines that you can query in a question format...however, your question has to be in a fairly standard form. For example, you can't expect to type in "how many chickens crossed highway 66 in 1945" and expect to get a good answer. Here are some answer-finding search engines for you that you can use to find factual answers to factual questions:

  • Wolfram Alpha: Wolfram Alpha endeavors to pull facts from web pages or online encyclopedias and presents them in your search results. 
  • Duck Duck Go: This search engine offers instant answers to many queries.