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Engine failure

Life online; Search engines

There was something I should have made clear when I wrote recently about the importance of a good, guessable address for a company's websites - search engines aren't infallible.

Some people might wonder why anyone should prefer to guess a company's address, ahead of looking it up by typing the name in a search engine such as Excite or Lycos. Surely, the internet is like a big database and if information is there, the search engine will know.

If only life were that simple. Unfortunately, search engines simply don't know all the websites in the world. Web developers have to send details of their websites to search engine operators who then have to acknowledge their existence. This can take time and which search engines you register your site with, can determine how easy it is for people to find.

For example, NCE's website leaps to the top ofthe Altavista ( list if you type New Civil Engineer in the search box (and in fact occupies the top 100 or so slots). But getting your site recognised and persuading search engine operators to display prominently on search lists is not always easy.

NCE sent its details to 18 other search engines which received the details at the same time - many weeks ago - but NCE's website comes up on searches using only one or two of these. Average times for being listed on the big US sites range from about 12 days to more than 50 in the case of Yahoo, ( and most of the major ones take about a month.

All search engines have their own quirks and features, and today seemed a good time to check through them all. In most cases the searches were a confusing experience. Lycos ( was one of the few that seemed to be friendly and helpful. Northernlight ( has a good feature in telling you which sites are commercial, educational and so on. Google ( offers a nice touch - type in your phrase, hit 'I'm feeling lucky' and it will take you to its top match.

Reading the search tips can pay dividends in improving your results. For instance, many let you enter something in quotes if you want it to be treated as a phrase. Others, such as All the Web (, let you specify whether you are searching for an exact phrase, or just pages containing all or any ofthe words. Hotbot ( lets you do this too, but the results come prefaced by silly offers.

Some give percentage ratings as to how likely they think a site is to meet your needs, but what does a 32% chance really mean? Excite ( helpfully offered to narrow the search for New Civil Engineer with some more words it thought relevant, including Spotsylvania and hurlburt.

A lot of places steer you down the route of indexed categories. Buried within LookSmart ( for instance is a grand total of 28 construction firms, filed under business and finance/industry and trade/construction and building/construction firms. It's one thing if a search engine is very friendly, but it really does need to come up with the goods. And there are rather more than 28 firms out there.

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