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The Best of the Rest
Google is the most popular search engine in the world, so much so that "Google it" is the most common way to tell someone to search for information online. This doesn't mean that Google is the only option that people have online, of course; there are a number of other search engines which enjoy a smaller but loyal following. Given that some people have concerns about the privacy of their search histories and personal information when using Google, knowing what your alternatives are can help you to decide whether Google is really the right search engine for you or not. Since you already know Google, here are the best of the rest.
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Bing is Microsoft's search engine offering and is considered by many to be one of the few real threats to Google's supremacy as king of the search engines. Completely reworked from the days of MSN Search, Bing offers fast search results with a high degree of accuracy. In some cases, the results provided by Bing are actually more on-topic than those provided by Google; this increased relevancy depends on what terms are being searched for, of course. Being able to claim that your search results are more relevant than Google's even part of the time is still something to be proud of, however.
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Though it is known more these days for its email and news services, Yahoo! started life as one of the Internet's more popular search engines. Somewhere along the way the company managed to let its varied interests get in the way of its search engine's development, leading to Yahoo! Search becoming one of the more reviled search engines on the Internet. After recognizing their mistake, Yahoo! undertook a major revision of their search engine with the goal of getting back on top. Yahoo! Search hasn't yet been able to reclaim the glory of its early days, but it has come a long way with relevant search results and a large database of sites to draw results from. Add to this a homepage that displays the latest news headlines and links to a number of commonly-used Yahoo! services and it's obvious that they're on the right track.
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Dogpile isn't as well-known as some of the other entries on this list, but the results that it provides are generally just as relevant. There's a reason for this, of course; Dogpile draws its search results from Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and Ask.com themselves. Each search result displays information on where it was found, with most of the first-page results having at least two or three different search engines listed as sources. The only drawback facing Dogpile is that it can sometimes be difficult for the search engine to determine which of these results are actually the most relevant. While most if not all of the results from a Dogpile search would be first-page results on any of the search engines that Dogpile uses, the rankings may vary slightly and you might get slightly better results by just going directly to the source. This isn't the case all the time, of course, and Dogpile will occasionally find you those gems which occasionally slip through the cracks at Google and Bing.
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Cuil (pronounced "cool") is a search engine that sounds like it really should be the be-all and end-all of Internet searches. The founders of Cuil read like a Who's Who of Internet big-shots; they came from IBM and Google, then surrounded themselves with individuals who have worked on global projects such as the Internet Archive. Unfortunately, Cuil has never been able to quite live up to the hype of its creation. The search engine results are good, but generally aren't as good as Google, Bing, or Yahoo! As a unique offering, Cuil has created an automated encyclopedia function known as "Cpedia" which works like Wikipedia without the user editing. If you can't find what you're looking for with a Cuil search you can switch over to Cpedia with a click and search the articles that have been created there. Cpedia even offers you the option to switch from the encyclopedia article to search results, allowing you to find related websites as well.
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Formerly known as "Ask Jeeves," Ask offers quality search results that are often as good as those provided by Google and Bing. Ask boasts a powerful image search as well, and often generates relevant images that are buried several pages deep when using the Google image search function. The site features an easy-to-use and easy-on-the-eyes interface which predates the similar image backdrops that have been adopted more recently by Bing and Google. Unfortunately, this interface may also be one of Ask's biggest drawbacks; the UI can cause site slowdowns on older computers and for those who have slow internet connections. Accurate search results and a good image search don't do much good if users leave the site because they're frustrated with how slow everything seems.
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Finding the Search for You
With so many choices, you may wonder how to find the best search to get you the results that you need. The easiest way is to compare the results from different search engines side-by-side to see which set of results are most relevant to what you're looking for. If you want to see whether Bing beats Google on your search terms, run a search for the same phrase in both to see which set gives you better information. The same goes for comparing other sites against each other; pit Cuil and Ask against each other to see which provides you with more relevant links, or run Yahoo! and Dogpile head-to-head to see whether the addition of other search engines really helps Dogpile's result relevance.
To make this easier, websites such as Bing vs. Google and Search3 let you see the results of more than one search engine side by side with a single search. Bing vs. Google obviously lists results for both engines, while Search3 shows you simultaneous results for Bing, Google, and Yahoo!. While the accuracy of searches on different engines will depend largely on the specific terms being searched for, making comparisons among the sites will at least help you to make an informed decision as to which site best meets your needs.