MetaSearch Engines

Why search only one engine, when you can search them all? A MetaSearch engine lets you search multiple engines with just one entry. It can save you the hassle of going to a variety of different sites in order to perform your search, and it might even suggest a search engine that you had not considered before (or one that you didn’t even know about!). There are over 100 different MetaSearch sites capable of searching over 3,500 different search engines, so you have many options.

The major search engines index a relatively small amount of the Web, therefore combining the results of multiple engines can return many documents, which would otherwise not be found. Cyveillance claims that there are over “3.2 billion + unique, publicly available pages exist on the Internet,” and that “the Internet is growing at an explosive rate of more than 7 million pages each day”.

Traditional Search Engines

Although, despite a flood of results in the form of 10,000 or 20,000 hits in response to a search query, not many of the links seem to contain the information we actually seek. “We wade through the first three, four, or even five results screens, then we “might” attempt to refine the search or transfer it to another search tool, only to face the same outcome: an overwhelming amount of information irrelevant to our information needs”.

Traditional search engines have a number of deficiencies including: duplicate links, periods of downtime, low coverage, inefficient user interfaces, out of date databases, poor relevancy ranking and precision, and difficulties with spamming techniques. The results from identical searches can vary from as much as 40%, but usually contain about 60% of the same information. Some provide more information than others, and the amount of web pages they index varies. Some of the search engine databases are not growing as fast as others, and they are not updated regularly. Plus, the update crawler and spider program might not be very fast, which means that their information may not be current when you find it. MetaSearch engines have been introduced to address some of these and other difficulties.

MetaSearch Engines – Online And Offline

MetaSearch engines do not own a database of Web pages; they send your search terms to the databases maintained by other search engines. The idea of querying and collating results from multiple databases is not new. Companies like PLS, Lexis-Nexis, DIALOG MetaCrawler, and Verity have been developing systems that integrate the results of multiple heterogeneous databases for a long time.

The principle operation of online and offline MetaSearch engines are exactly the same. For each request, they query multiple search engines removing dead links, duplicate results, and irrelevant information, providing one consistent interface. They are good based on where they search, ease of use, ability to focus, capacity to handle more advanced searches intelligently, and by carefully routing your search terms and Boolean operators (+ – AND, OR, etc) properly to the designated search engines. Online MetaSearch engines are accessed from websites, and require you to be online in order for them to work. They do all of the work on-line, and do not use the resources of your computer.

Offline MetaSearch engines, usually called Desktop Search Applications, are software programs that are installed on your computer. In theory, they speed up the process of analyzing, refining, collating, removing duplicates, etc., and they generally provide more advanced functionality. Results are generally produced faster because they enable you to take advantage of your computer’s processing power and memory. Plus, you do not need to be connected to the Internet to make them function. You can define your search strategy and keyword formulas “off-line”, and then go online when you are ready to perform the search.

Customized Metasearch Tools

There are online MetaSearch engines that allow you to create your own personalized portal. This is good if you do a lot of searching, or if you have many specialized interests. You can organize your favorite search engines, sites, links to news and other resources, and more. You can also link to other portals, and you can become a published expert. Offline MetaSearch tools (Desktop Search Applications) usually provide more customized features. Some can access multiple resources available on your computer (Internet, Intranet, Extranet, local hard drives, etc.), they can run multiple search processes simultaneously, and they usually provide more search engines to choose from.

Additional features include the ability to save search settings so that you can run a search again, make modifications, and track changes. They can eliminate advertisements and other distractions (paid versions), and usually have a spellchecker and thesaurus. They can automatically monitor specified Web pages for changes, plus identify and retrieve new and relevant information on any topic. They offer end-user driven searches and programmed automated searches (repeatedly without any user intervention). The results of these searches are then available for you to access at your convenience.Plus, Intelliseek’s Bullseye Pro ADK, allows you to update and to add your own search engines in order to completely customize your MetaSearch capability.

Metasearch List Page (Pseudo Metasearch)

These sites contain a collection of search boxes for different search engines, or a drop-down menu that lets you choose among a list of available search engines. These are not really MetaSearch engines, but have simply collated the work of others onto a new home page, and it is primarily just a list of links. You simply enter the appropriate search terms into the dialogue box, and submit the search. Then the search is performed on the selected search engines, and the user is presented with a list of results in exactly the same way that they would if they had gone to visit that particular site directly. You can reduce the amount of time you spend going from one site to another in order to complete your search. It might also suggest other search engines for you, which you had not considered using before.

Other Features

A growing number of MetaSearch engines are becoming portals, offering many search variations and other services, such as useful secondary, portal-like services, stock quotes, airline tickets, shopping malls, news links, games, chatrooms, free e-mail, etc., and specialized collections of web-sites and resources for businesses, web designers, movie-goers, and other services. The goal seems to be to lure as many users to the site and keep them there as long as possible.

MetaSearch Problems

But, there are also some problems with some MetaSearch engines. MetaSearch engines are at the mercy of the search engines that they choose to reference, and they are unable to affect the internal workings of individual search engines. If an engine takes a long time to return a result, then you might need to wait. While some MetaSearch engines are particularly effective and sophisticated, some of them have particular deficiencies:

  • The number of search engines that a MetaSearch engine will use varies dramatically (10–1000). They simply pass your search terms along to other engines, and sometimes results can be lost if your search is complex, or if it contains more than one or two words.
  • They usually only spend a short amount time in each database, and often only retrieve 10% of the queried results.
  • The quantity of results does not always equal satisfaction, and often times you need to refine the results of the search by searching again inside the original results.
  • The way you enter search keywords (search engine protocol) is far from standardized, and if a search engine changes, then the MetaSearch engine also might need to change in order to perform a proper search.
  • They give you the impression that searching is a very simple process, when it is more complex. Some have no instructions, no hints on how to create a better or more effective search, and no way of identifying how many search engines were used.


Overall, the new advanced search and customization features make MetaSearch tools very appealing. Be careful when listening to some of the negative comments you’ve heard about MetaSearch tools in the past (2 months ago). Most do a very good job of translating your search into the correct syntax required by different search engines, and they make your search experience much more efficient. They also provide a quick way for you to get some sense of the massive quantity of Web resources available on a topic, and they help you determine which individual search engine might be the best for your needs. They are not perfect, but their capabilities continue to improve, and they have an important place in the information searching process.

Author:  David Jurus