March 4, 2020 – Do you find yourself ordering the same dish from the menu every time you visit your favorite restaurant? When you take a chance and order something different, are you surprised to discover that it also tastes great, it just is not something you would choose every time? There is comfort in knowing that there are other items available if your favorite isn’t available or you want to expand your palate.
An analogy can be made when selecting a search engine. While the search market is dominated by Google,1 when offered a broader “menu,” online users can discover great alternative search engines that may serve their needs better than Google.
Why use an engine other than Google?
Common reasons include the desire for increased privacy, less commercial results, more focused results, and different results since each search engine uses a proprietary algorithm.
Read on to expand your search engine palate and discover additional general search engines, including those that search only documents, images, government sources, or podcasts.
General Search Engines
Calling itself the “world’s most private” search engine, StartPage uses Google for its results and then removes various trackers to make it private. As a result, the researcher is able to obtain Google quality results without ads popping up from prior searches. StartPage also offers an advanced search template that allows the searcher to initiate more focused queries.
Bev Butula is Director of Library of Services at Davis & Kuelthau, Milwaukee. She is a past president of the Law Librarians Association of Wisconsin (LLAW) and was formerly a litigation paralegal.
DuckDuckGo is another general search engine. It also emphasizes searcher privacy and does not track, target, or store personal information, including IP addresses.
There are a variety of special search features offered by DuckDuckGo, including instant answers, bangs (the ability to directly search a specific website) and category pages. DuckDuckGo has also partnered with another search engine, Yummly, to provide specialized recipe results.
It can be difficult to explain Wolfram Alpha. It is not really a general search engine – it is actually much more. Wolfram Alpha provides “computational intelligence.”
When a search query is entered, Wolfram Alpha performs computations to generate relevant information. For example, a search of “crime total Wisconsin vs United States” provides a side by side comparison of data, including graphs.
To assist in fully understanding the results, Wolfram Alpha offers a link at the end of the results, listing the source(s) of the information.
Microsoft Academic Search (academic.microsoft.com)
The purpose of this search engine is to locate academic publications. It currently indexes over 200 million publications covering over 700,000 topics. Academic Search uses artificial intelligence to “scan and extract knowledge from all scholarly publications discovered and indexed by Bing.”
The researcher can narrow the search results by subtopic, date of publication, publication type, and name of journal. Similar to its Google counterpart – Google Scholar – the majority of the results are abstracts with citations.
Full text articles can be obtained by contacting a local public, medical, legal, or academic library.
Operated by the U.S. Office of Scientific and Technical Information, “WorldWideScience.org is a global science gateway comprised of national and international scientific databases and portals. WorldWideScience.org accelerates scientific discovery and progress by providing one-stop searching of databases from around the world,” according to its website.
Selecting the advanced search option provides the searcher with a list of all the content providers. An overview of the search engine and its functionality is available at in the site’s FAQs.
Another option for academic research, RefSeek is a small but mighty search engine.
According to its website, “RefSeek searches more than 5 billion documents, including webpages, books, encyclopedias, journals, and newspapers.” In simplest terms, it removes all the results they do not consider scholarly in nature.
A useful feature found within RefSeek is the ability to limit search results either only to websites or to online documents (i.e., non-HTML format).
Image Search Engines
Tineye is a reverse image search engine. Basically, it is a way to locate information and websites by image versus text. Searching a picture will typically produce similar images and websites that contain that image.
Berify is a respected reverse image search engine that is subscription-based. It does, however, offer the ability to search up to five images for free. The focus of Berify is to assist in protecting an individual’s or client’s intellectual property.
CC Search: ccsearch.creativecommons.org
CC search, according to its website, is a “tool that allows openly licensed and public domain works to be discovered and used by everyone.” CC Search was created by the nonprofit group Creative Commons. Once a search is executed, the searcher can filter by license, file type, and image type.
Additional Search Engines
GovInfo, which replaced the Government Publishing Office Federal Digital System (FDsys) in 2018, provides access to official publications from all three branches of government.
Searches are run across an extensive list of collections. Most collections contain information from 1994 forward. Additional information regarding what is available can be found on the site's help page.
The collections list is quite extensive. For example, select appellate, district, and bankruptcy court opinions can be located by searching GovInfo.
MedNar offers researchers a powerful medical search engine. MedNar only searches a distinct group of quality medical resources, such as Merck Manual, PubMed, National Cancer Institute, National Institute on Aging, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Food and Drug Administration, and then produces a result list.
Selecting the “advanced search” option produces a complete list of all the content providers. An added feature within MedNar is the ability to refine a search to include only full text documents.
Listen Notes is a search engine dedicated to podcasts. It queries over 900,000 podcasts and permits the searcher to enter a topic, person, or podcast title. In addition to the search engine, an individual can create an account and build a playlist of individual episodes from various podcasts.
Conclusion: Explore Your Options
Since its inception, Google has controlled the search engine market. However, just like ordering something other than your “go to” menu item from your favorite restaurant, it is worth expanding your search engine choice to see how the results vary.
1 Google’s U.S. market share from January 2019 to January 2020 exceeded 88%. See StatCounter statistics.