Web Search Tools: Here Are the Basics

Three basic search tools that will help you find what you're looking for online

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When you're just getting started using the web, it can be quite overwhelming to understand exactly what tools are best to use to find what you may be looking for. There are so many choices: how do I find something online? How do I stay safe while on the web? How do I see what I want to see without a lot of clutter? The web is definitely a two-edged sword; while the availability of information is absolutely astonishing, it also can be quite intimidating if you don't know how to access it in a way that makes sense.

That's where basic tools come in that can help you organize information on the web into more meaningful channels. There are three basic types of search tools that most people use to find what they are looking for on the web (there's more than this, but these are the basics that everyone should start with):

  • Search Engines
  • Subject Directories
  • Meta Search Tools

None of these search tools allow you to search the entire web; that would be an almost impossible task. However, you can use these web search tools to scour different parts of the web, obtain different types of information, and broaden your web search horizons.

Search the Web With Search Engines

Search engines are large, spider(software programs) create databases of web pages that help searchers find specific information on any given subject. You type in a keyword or phrase and the search engine retrieves pages that correspond to your search query.

Search results gathered from these search engines are not always relevant to the keywords entered since these engines are not intuitive and cannot infer dynamically what it is you might be searching for (although results are getting better all the time). This is why it's important to learn how to search as efficiently as possible using such techniques as Boolean search, or basic Google search techniques.

Interpretation of relevancy is different in each search engine. Many search engines have included categories to direct users to more relevant sites based on these particular topics.

Search the Web With Subject Directories

Subject directories, in general, are smaller and selective than search engines. They use categories to focus your search, and their sites are arranged by categories, not just by keywords. Subject directories are handy for broad searches, as well as finding specific websites. Most subject directories' main purpose is to be informational, rather than commercial. A good example of a search directory is Yahoo, a combination search engine/search directory/search portal, or one of the original search directories, Open Directory or DMOZ for short.

Search the Web With Metasearch Engines

Metasearch engines get their search results from several search engines. Users will receive the best hits to their keywords from each search engine. Metasearch tools are a good place to start for very broad results but do not (usually) give the same quality results as using each search engine and directory.

Basic Web Search Tools

In a very small nutshell, these are the three main web search tools that you can use to explore the web. Once you've gotten comfortable with these, you can move on to niche, or vertical, search engines, specialized directories, user-generated content hubs, social bookmarking sites... the list is endless. Here are just a few of the resources that you might like to try:

In addition, if you'd like to learn more about basic web searching, try Web Search 101. You'll find all sorts of great introductory web search material here that will help you become a more confident searcher.