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Search Engine Basics

What is a search engine?

Search engines utilize indexing software agents often called robots or spiders. These agents are programmed to constantly "crawl" the Web in search of new or updated pages. They will essentially go from URL to URL until they have visited every Web site on the Internet.

When visiting a Web site, an agent will record the full text of every page (home and sub-pages) within the site. It will then continue on to visit all external links. Following these external links is how search engines are able to find your site regardless of whether or not you register your URL with them. Submitting your URL, however, does speed up the process. It notifies an agent to visit and index your site instead of waiting for it to eventually locate you through one of your external links.

Robots will then revisit your site periodically to refresh the recorded information. The revisiting of links is the reason why some search engines don't require you to inform them of dead links. Eventually, their robot would try unsuccessfully to update the information on a dead link and realize it no longer exists.

Finally, an easy way to tell whether a Web index is a search engine as opposed to another type of directory is by the information it requires when adding your URL. A true search engine will only need the Web address. The indexing agent takes care of the rest.

Every Internet Search Engine has its own idiosyncrasies, so let each one you ‘re using teach you about itself. Most have a Help button or a page of tips that explain the best way to phrase a search. In general, follow these suggestions:

Be specific. Use several words to describe what you re frying to find. For instance, you ll get more on-target results by typing "American Civil War cannons" than by entering "artillery."

Link your terms. Nearly all search engines let you use "connectors"—such as and, or and not—to conduct a more sophisticated search. For example, if you want to find sites devoted to sports in New Jersey, you might type "sports and New Jersey."


Excite analyzes the relationship among the search terms you enter, then hunts for Web pages that contain ideas and concepts based on the words in your query.  Contains access to a superb mapping program that can plot and display any trip route you desire.


You can search by keyword or topic, and the News Center and Smart Info buttons give you one-click access to Web sites displaying current news headlines, stock prices, e-mail addresses, street maps and zip codes.


Most search engines look only for words, but Lycos can locate Web pages that contain maps, music, photos, sounds and videos.


This search engine not only finds what your looking for, it also offers shortcuts to related sites you might not have considered.


Yahoo is a subject oriented guide that lets you work your way from topic to subtopic until you find what you want.

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