Search engines: a study of nine search engines in four categories

Dallas Knight, Alec Holt, Jim Warren


This study’s objective was to determine how search engines within different categories compare, and to look at features and trends of search engines that are commonly used for queries by both health consumers and professionals.

Nine search engines in four categories were objectively and subjectively assessed then ranked. Assessments covered relevance, popularity, usability, website quality and search engine features. Queries relating to five health scenarios were used to formulate query terms. Rankings were summed and ranked again. Features and the impact of Web 2.0 technology in search are also discussed.

Search engines within the general category (Google, SearchYahoo!) performed best overall. Meta search engines (Dogpile, Jux2) also performed well with vertical search engines (Healia, Kosmix, Healthline) next. Health portals (Revolution Health, WebMD) produced relevant useful results for common terms, but not for unusual query terms.

This study, which is generic in nature and therefore equally applicable to both developed and developing countries, ranked search engines on the Internet. The general and meta search engines ranked higher than the vertical search engines. The health portals provided a fuller social experience, including discussion forums. Google is a good place to start a health search, but knowledge of how a search engine works and using queries that are more effective, may improve results. Rich web technologies (RWT) are changing the search landscape with personalisation, customisation and increased human input influencing the search process.


Search engine; vertical search engine; information retrieval; patient education; patient empowerment; semantic; Web 2.0