Old Dominion University Libraries

STARquest II: The Internet and the World Wide Web

3b. Search Tools - Search Engines

Rather than relying on human beings to discover new Web sites, and add them to the searchable database, these sites use a software program to scour the Web.

These programs are sometimes referred to as crawlers, robots, engines, or spiders. Searching, instead of browsing, is the main feature of this type of tool.

These tools usually require knowledge of advanced searching commands in order to reduce the number of hits. Always read the help screens for each search tool. Each tool is different in the search commands that it uses. No search engine searches the entire Web. You may need to try at least four engines for a thorough search.

Use search engines when you need to pinpoint a specific term or phrase. Other instances are when you need to search for images or sounds or want to limit to a particular domain (e.g. .edu).

Some examples of search engines are Google, HotBot, and AltaVista.



  • Offers much larger searchable databases of Web sites
  • Will search the entire text of individual Web pages
  • Great for searching very specific or obscure terms or phrases
  • No human quality control to weed out problems, duplicates, or junk
  • Can lead to unmanageably high numbers of search results
  • Search commands can be complex and confusing