Popularity can be a double-edged sword - especially in the search engine business. Just look at Google. While "Google" has become a household word - and virtually synonymous with search - it has also become the moving target every "search engine optimization expert" wants to hit. Everyone seems to turn to Google for answers... so being on the first page of Google's results has become a coveted prize.
This prize is so coveted, in fact, that more and more "search engine spammers" build sites engineered to get a high ranking, and nothing more. These sites are usually filled with junk content and loads of advertising. While they make money for their owners, and sometimes their advertisers, they also provide no real information to us, the end users searching for actual useful information online.
To combat search engine spamming, Google must constantly tweak its mysterious algorithm in an attempt to weed these irrelevant "junk" sites from its listings. In the meantime, valuable sites drop in and out of their results pages, disappear into oblivion, or get caught in the net of "banned" sites. Yes, it's a sticky problem for Google. But it's also a hassle for Web searchers who have come rely on the Big G as the ultimate in relevant search results.
So where do you turn when you need to find information online... and Google doesn't give it to you? In this article, I discuss a few excellent alternatives to Google. I'll peek inside two of the best all-purpose online search tools. Whether you're a professional writer and researcher like me, or just a casual searcher, give these search alternatives a fighting chance... and you may soon find yourself hooked!
AlltheWeb's (http://www.alltheweb.com) search interface may seem initially Google-like, but if you frequently research industries, products, or services online you'll appreciate the flexibility of AlltheWeb. The first thing you'll notice is the speed. When it debuted, AlltheWeb was owned by a company called FAST, and it boasted about its ultra-swift response time. It's still exceptionally zippy, even on dialup. It's also Opera compliant, and loads and renders perfectly in FireFox as well as the many new IE shell browsers, such as the full-featured Avant or the ultra-lean Deepnet Explorer.
Second, if you find yourself frustrated by the often cryptic site descriptions served up by Google, you'll like All The Web's eminently readable results. AlltheWeb's search engine results pages (or SERPS) are provided by Yahoo, which as of this writing still grabs full-blown descriptions from site submissions and tags. If you use Google frequently, reading those real sentences that actually make sense is a refreshing change.
Third, if you're concerned about coverage, Yahoo crawls and indexes Web sites almost as frequently as Google. It also prides itself on dropping aging content and eliminating dead or broken links, making AlltheWeb's results both relevant and timely.
Given this intimate relationship between Yahoo and AlltheWeb, you're probably wondering, "Why not just use Yahoo Search instead of AlltheWeb?" The answer brings us to AlltheWeb's most attractive feature: its highly customizable search and display preferences.
Yes, AlltheWeb's advanced search page offers all the standard word and phrase match options, including Boolean operators (using AND, OR, or NOT to refine a search query). But these refinements are just the beginning. You'll find one of the most helpful features lurking way at the bottom of the advanced search form: the ability to specify the number of results you'll get all on one page (10, 25, 50, 75, or 100 listings).
You can also apply up to 10 word or phrase filters to your search, and specify whether you want a given word or phrase excluded from the title, the text, or both. This feature will win your admiration and gratitude the next time you need to search for Michael Campbell (the golfer from New Zealand), or Andy Williams (the easy-listening singer), and don't want to slog through interminable affiliate sites selling products by the other Michael Campbell and Andy Williams (both Web marketing experts).
But that's just the beginning of AlltheWeb's search refinements. One time saver is the ability to exclude specific URLs or domain types from your search. So if you need to locate online articles in which the Federal Trade Commission is mentioned, but don't want to wade through dozens of pages from the FTC's Web site, simply exclude FTC.gov or the .gov domain from the results altogether. You can even limit the results to a specific geographic region, such as North America or the United Kingdom.
AlltheWeb also allows you to set a date range for when results were updated, starting as early as January 1, 1980 up to the present. This tool is especially useful if you're working on a topic that changes constantly, such as search engine optimization, or don't want to waste your time on older sites that haven't added new content for a while.
Finally, AlltheWeb goes the extra mile by letting you customize and save your search preferences. You can automatically filter out offensive content, highlight search terms, set your preferred typeface size, or tell it to open each site in a new window. Just save those preferences once and get optimum search efficiency every time.
With its unforgettable name, its endearing dog logo ("Arfie"), and its ability to deliver top results from all the biggest search engines and directories, Dogpile (http://www.dogpile.com) has long been the "secret weapon" of choice for expert Web researchers. Technically, Dogpile is NOT a search engine. It's what's known as a "metasearch" engine. It combines results from a wide variety of sources, including other search engines, directories, paid listings, audio and video engines, and top news media sources.
By developing its metasearch capabilities to the fullest, Dogpile's founders created a tool to soothe the frustrations of seasoned Web searchers, who have always known that different search engines tend to display different results for the same query. By bringing all of the Web's best search engine results together under one roof, Dogpile has become the "one stop shop" for comprehensive and relevant results - a highly efficient way to scan search results from Google, AskJeeves, Yahoo, About.com, The Open Directory, LookSmart, FindWhat, Overture, and other specialty sources all in one place.
Many of Dogpile's specialized searches - images, audio files, and news stories - come from Yahoo But they also include results from some little known but powerful specialty engines and directories. For example, Dogpile's image search includes results from Ditto.com (http://www.ditto.com), a specialty engine with the largest searchable index of visual content on the internet delivered as thumbnail images. Audio comes from both Yahoo and SingingFish (http://www.singingfish.com), which indexes music, news, movies, sports, TV and radio, and finance delivered in multimedia formats - Windows Media, RealPlayer, QuickTime, and mp3s.
The best way to experience the power of Dogpile is to explore its Advanced Search and Preferences pages. While not quite as customizable and filterable as AlltheWeb, you'll find some unique search and display tweaks that can make the life of a frequent online searcher much less frustrating.
For example, you can tell Dogpile to track and display your last 15 searches - a real boon when you need to catch up on recent news or Web updates on a series of related topics, such as individual software products or a dozen different companies in the same industry. You can also specify how you want each flavor of results sorted - by relevance or source. So you can have Web searches display results by how closely they relate to your query, but your news can be sorted by news site - a nice touch if you prefer to skip over ABC or Fox.
Dogpile also understand that not everyone who uses it is already a search engine expert. Arfie's Special Search Tools & Tricks section is one of the best places to learn about the power of metasearch. In fact, the other search engines could learn a few lessons by studying Dogpile's FAQ, which includes a screenshot of a typical Dogpile results page, with every element on it identified, mapped, and explained in detail. Add an attractive interface, a useful site map, search tips, and an unfailing sense of humor, and you'll soon find yourself returning to Dogpile when other search engines fail you.
And don't forget to visit Arfie's personal page (http://www.dogpile.com/info.dogpl/search/help/meetarfie.htm). Click through his photo album. Check out his seasonal costumes. Send him an email. And all the while, remember that there's more than one way to search the Web.