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Search engines are an integral part of the Internet. Could you imagine the Internet without Google? And I am not even talking about all the services that Google offers as a company. Just imagine the Internet without Google search and you will realize how important search engines are. The Internet has billions and billions of websites with loads of content but it’s the search engines that make them discoverable. So is there any difference between search engines and meta search engines? What exactly is a meta search engine?

Before I even attempt an explanation, let me tell you that search engine technology is one of the most well kept secrets of computer science. No company will give you complete details on how they index, search and sort the results. That being said, I shall try my best to convey as much as I know and as much that is possible within the constraints of an article.

What is a Meta Search Engine?

To understand what a meta search engine is, first you have to understand how a search engine works. The search engine visits billions of websites and creates a database or repository of sorts of the various sites. This is known as the index. Then whenever a user enters the search query, something magical happens (algorithms if you are a computer geek) and the pages that are deemed relevant to what you asked for are returned. Pretty simple, huh?  If only you could improve those magical algorithms you could create the next Google (although Google is smart enough to hire you instead!).

So now back to how a meta search engine works. Meta search engines don’t have a repository or index of their own, they take advantage of indices created by other search engines. In fact they present this as their strong point. A typical meta search engine pulls off the results from a number of search engines, say Google and Bing, and then apply their own algorithms in some cases to re-order the results.

Are Meta Search Engines Better?

The obvious thought that comes to mind is that meta search engines get their results from multiple search engines and since two is better than one the results must also be better. The truth however is different, in fact let me put it this way – it is a matter of personal preference.


Let me explain with an example. First off, you need to keep one thing in mind that no search engine can index the entire Internet. Yes, not even Google. Now, suppose you are looking for something that is on website ‘Z’ and say you search for the term in your favorite search engine and you get no results. So now the only way a meta search engine is going to be able to respond with a result is if any other search engine has indexed website ‘Z’. If other search engines have indexed website ‘Z’ then of course a meta search engine is better than the one you are using. But then are you using a good search engine in the first place that doesn’t index website ‘Z’?

I say so because the index of search engines are more or less the same. It’s the algorithms they use to create and search the index and the algorithms they use to order the results that make one search engine better than the other. So if something is missing from a search engine altogether than perhaps you need to switch. But hey, if it works for you, it is the best for you. So if a meta search engine gives you what you need then it is better. Viewed logically, you shouldn’t expect huge differences in results except for ups and downs in the ranks.

Example Of Meta Search Engines

what is a meta search engine

There are probably thousands of them out there, some of the prominent ones are: Dogpile, Vivisimo, Mamma and Metacrawler.

A Different Meta Search Engine

As is often the case, the definition I presented above is only one of the many definitions of meta search engines. Till now we know that a meta search engine is one that searches databases of other search engines to give you the search results. As it turns out a search engine that searches multiple sites but not the entire web is also known as a meta search engine (although the definition is not very popular). Google Custom Search Engines (CSE’s) are an excellent example of such search engines. What’s better you can create one of your own and see how things work. Here is how:

Visit Google CSE , hit the big “Create a Custom Search Engine

what is a meta search engine

Fill in the required details and then enter the sites you want to search.

what is a meta search engine

Test it out and see how things work. You can even make money with AdSense for search.

What are your opinions on the issue? Are meta search engines better than normal search engines?

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