In times of information overload, it is becoming more and more important to get relevant results quickly. The first way usually leads through search engines such as Google, Bing, and Co., which provide reliable service for standard questions. Another form of a search engine is also used, especially for special topics: the so-called metasearch engine.
What is a metasearch engine and how does it differ from a traditional search engine?
What is a metasearch engine or a metacrawler?
There are web crawlers on search engines. Metasearch engines or metacrawlers are search engines that do not use their own database (search engine index). Instead, the users’ search queries are forwarded to a large number of other search engines and a specially prepared list of results is created from them. This process is known as metasearch.
The first meta searcher called Metacrawler was created in the mid-1990s at the University of Washington as part of a research project. Shortly afterward, the European answer MetaGer was launched by a German university. However, by continuously optimizing and enlarging its own index, Google ousted the other metasearch engines because – compared to the competition – it delivered the most relevant and best results.
In the meantime, metasearch engines are used in addition to classic web searches, especially for specialized subject areas. Search queries for hotels, real estate, jobs, or scientific literature can be better covered by special services than by large search engines. The reason is simple: By querying several different databases, more targeted results are possible.
How do meta-search engines work?
A metasearch engine gets its information from other search engines. As soon as the user has entered a search term, the metacrawler accesses the databases of these search engines – the search query is passed on to several different databases in parallel.
Incidentally, these can be very large, but also small, specialized platforms. For example, if a person searches for a product on Meta-Spinner.de, the search query is forwarded to Amazon, Preispiraten, Shopping.com, and eBay in parallel.
Due to the fact that several databases are searched, the search process can take a little longer than with regular search engines. The results are then filtered, ranked according to a proprietary algorithm, and prepared for the display of results – just as we know it in principle from classic search engines.
What is special about metasearch engines, however, is the display of the result list: For example, the filter options used to look different for each metacrawler, are adapted to the respective topic and are based on the orientation of the service. The search results are obtained from major search engines and evaluated using their own rankings. Some metasearch engines even allow users to preselect the search engines from which they should compile the result lists.
Metasearch engines are used for a wide variety of products and services. Typical application examples for metasearch engines are hotels, rental cars, product searches, real estate, or flights. They are also used to search for scientific literature, jobs, or news.
Examples of well-known meta-search engines
Well-known and most frequently used meta-search engines on the market are currently:
- Metacrawler, the world’s first metasearch engine, was invented in the USA in 1995.
Most meta-search engines, however, specialize in certain subject areas. In the following list, we give you the most common topics and the respective metacrawlers as examples.
Flights and travel
Various platforms such as skyscanner.com specialize in flight searches. There are also numerous metasearch engines that compare prices and display various travel offers. Google also offers a specialized flight search that uses direct providers and other flight search engines.
A well-known job portal that is based on metasearch engines is indeed.com.
There are also a large number of meta-search engines for hotel searches. The best known is booking.com.
A very well-known metasearch engine for various products is ebay.com.
Advantages of metasearch engines
In summary, metasearch engines come with a number of useful advantages that simple search engines cannot:
- Result quality: Because a metacrawler searches several search engine indices, you will get significantly better hits for many topic queries.
- Time-saving: A metasearch engine gives you the desired result within a few seconds. For example, if you are looking for the cheapest flight from Frankfurt to Vienna, you do not have to first compare the websites of the individual direct providers.
- Filter options: In the same case, you will receive a ranked result list of available flights, which can be sorted according to your personal preferences using various filters.
- Data protection: In contrast to regular search engines, no data is collected about the user or their search behavior (unless a user profile is created). The search is, therefore, more neutral and safer for the user than on normal search platforms, which usually track surfing behavior very precisely.
Disadvantages of metasearch engines
Of course, there are also disadvantageous aspects that you need to be aware of when using metasearch engines:
- Source dependency: The results of the metasearch always depend on the quality of the original sources. The used search engines can be better or worse from branch to branch.
- Unequal source references: Google holds a large part of the market share so most of the result lists are obtained from this source.
- Poor performance: The extensive search of various indices and the preparation of the results can lead to longer waiting times and problems with performance.
Conclusion: the added value from metasearch engines
Metasearch engines are search engines that do not use their own indices, but various other indices from regular search engines and use them to create a list of results. They are rarely used in general searches on the web because Google and Co are already so well optimized that filtering is no longer necessary.
The real added value of metasearch engines can be seen in specialized subject areas such as hotels, flights, shopping, or rental cars. The clear advantage is that people receive a wider range of relevant hits and thus only the best results from the network. The list of results can also be filtered according to evaluation criteria and personal preferences.