Fagan Finder > Searching > Meta Search Tools

See Meta Search Engines to use meta search engines.

In This Page:
What are Meta Search Engines?
How do Meta Search Engines Work?
What Makes a Good Meta Search Engine?
The Meta Searching Trend

What are Meta Search Engines?
True meta search tools do not have their own database. They send your query to several search engines or directories at once, and consolidate all the results onto the same page. The point is to save time by using several search engines at the same time, helping you find obscure items. The term "meta search engine" is often misused. Some tools which do not consolidate results, but just stitch together results pages from various search tools are not meta search engines. Even websites similar to Fagan Finder have been called meta search engines, however they are not.

How do Meta Search Engines Work?
Meta search engines will perform your search on each of the sources they include. They will go to the results pages, and parse (extract) the results from them. They record all this, and then manipulate this data however they want, such as removing duplicates. After they have processed the results, they create an HTML page with them listed, which is what you see.

What Makes a Good Meta Search Engine?
There are three things that a meta search engine should do:

1: Change your query for each source
For example, cheese recipes on Google is equivalent to +cheese +recipes on AltaVista. Every search tool has its own syntax. A meta search engine should have its own syntax, which it translates into the syntax of every source it searches. However, for very complex boolean expressions, few meta search engines translate well; when using meta search engines it is best to use simple syntax like +, -, and " ", or none at all.

2: Consolidate results and remove duplicates
Many search engines' results will include the same website. A meta search engine should remove the duplicates, and rank results higher that appear in more engines. Most meta search engines do this well, however some will list http://www.abc.com, http://abc.com, and http://abc.com/index.html even though they are the exact same page. Most meta search engines will tell you which engine each result was found on, and some also tell you the position. If a web page was found on several engines, then they are all listed. Some meta search engines do not consolidate results; they merely list results search tool by search tool. These include Dogpile and 1Blink, and are therefore poor meta search tools.

3: Search good sources
A meta search engine is only as good as the tools it searches. There are many meta search engines (not included in Fagan Finder) which include only or mostly pay-per-click engines. Pay-per-click search engines (such as Overture, FindWhat, Sprinks, Kanoodle, Ah-Hah, Bay9, ValleyAlley, ePilot, and others) rank sites higher that pay them more, and are generally useless for the searcher (see links). Only Ithaki, Search.com, Anaconda, and several others include the newer search engines Teoma and WiseNut. There are, however, a number of meta search engines which include many invisible web resources, which can be searched when you select a category. These include ProFusion, Search.com, and Search Online. Many meta search engines have an advanced search, where you can choose which sources to search. This is good, because you can exclude pay-per-click engines. Both Google and Northern Light do not allow meta search engines to include them, and so those that do, do so illegally.

Should I Use a Meta Search Engine? Which are the Best?
The idea of a meta search engine is a great one, unfortunately it is rarely implemented well. They are not implemented well because do not rate well against the good qualities listed above. If you are using complex boolean expressions, then it is best to use the individual search sources.

Both ProFusion and Search.com have many meta search tools for different topics, which include topic-specific sources including invisible web ones, so this can be quite useful. Both let you customize groups of search tools; unfortunately the default ones on Search.com are not the best.

Features - Yes
Some meta search engines have their own features which they use on top of meta search results. These include Vivísimo which has topic clustering (grouping by topic). iBoogie and Query Server also use topic clustering (see details). Search.com and Ithaki are the only meta searches we know of which search the newer engines Teoma and WiseNut, although we recommend you customize your sources if using Search.com. AIMetaSearch is unique in showing the description offered by all of the sources, instead of just one. Ask Jeeves is made for asking questions in natural language. SurfWax will show "site snaps," many details any result.

Features - No
Each search tool has its own features, and meta search engines usually don't include them. Site clustering (grouping results that are in the same website, and only showing one or two) is used by most search engines, but by few meta search engines. An example of this done well is Search Online. Other features that the individual search tools have are usually lost.

The choice is up to you. The better meta search tools, like Ixquick, Ithaki, Search Online, and Vivísimo can be used instead of search engines. You may prefer to use these, or to search right from the source.

The Meta Searching Trend
With more and more specialized search tools, there comes more meta search tools to search them. When done well, they can save you time and may include search engines which you haven't tried before. There are meta searches on most topic pages on Fagan Finder already. There are even meta-meta search engines, which search several meta search engines, however we have not found any good enough to include.

The content of this page was last updated on March 8, 2002. One link has been added since then. Submit changes here.

Inside Fagan Finder
Searching Information
Meta Search Engines
Search Engine Watch Reports
Meta Search or Meta Ads?
The Meta Search Players
Meta Search Guide (note: page is big)
The Meta Search Engines: A Web Searcher’s Best Friends