What’s the difference between a metasearch engine and a search engine?

If you want to find something on the internet, you need search. Search engines make it possible for you to find the information you are looking for.

There are a number of search engines, and it is hard to tell if they are independent or metasearch engines. Many private search engines are actually metasearch engines. Findx is a true, independent search engine, which is why we want to explain the difference between metasearch engines and search engines.

Search engines

First, a quick introduction to search engines. A search engine sends a spider out to visit the billions of pages on the internet and stores the information it finds in an index, just like in a book. When you type in a phrase to search for, the search engine selects keywords and looks for them in its index, then returns you a list of ranked results. Read more about how search engines work.

Search engines need a lot of resources: hard drive space to store the index, strong computing power to calculate algorithms and quickly find what you are looking for in the index, and good developers to write the code that selects keywords from your phrase and rank the results.

The big search engines improve their ranking algorithms by recording what you search for and the results you click on, even if you aren’t logged into an account. They link your search results to your private data (like your IP address and browser information), and often sell this information to advertisers. You can’t avoid online tracking if you use the big search engines. Read more about why online tracking matters.

Search engines may also bias results – prioritising results based on your online history and behaviour, ranking their own or partners’ products and services higher than competitors, and including results from their advertising customers. This, amongst other issues, has led the European Commission to open an antitrust investigation against Google

What metasearch engines do

Metasearch engines do not build their own index. They piggyback on actual search engines, and make the search engines do the crawling work. Metasearch takes advantage of the indexes created by the bigger search engines, and usually returns results from a number of true search engines like Google, Bing or Yandex. Some metasearch engines will also include other third-party sources directly in their web search results.

To combine the results from multiple search engines and online directories successfully, metasearch engines usually have an agreement with the actual search engines. A metasearch engine may have their own combination of results from multiple sources, but the results they show depend on their sources, their sources’ ranking algorithms and their sources’ (unbiased?) index – the metasearch engine cannot easily control what results it delivers to you.

Is a metasearch engine better?

To a certain extent it is an utopian dream to create a search engine to index the entire internet, and even Google hasn’t indexed every page. Therefore it makes sense for a metasearch engine to use a variety of different sources.  By pulling results from multiple search engines, you avoid the bias that may exist when using only one search engine, although the results returned are still limited to the sources used by the metasearch engine.

So in short, private metasearch engines might actually provide a great service, if they get results from more sources  – you will search more sources with one search, and if you choose a private metasearch engine, none of your personal information is recorded by those sources.

However, a metasearch engine relies on the search engines and sources they use to find results. If, one day, the search engine decides they no longer want to allow metasearch access, they can simply end the contract with the metasearch engine. Unfortunately, this happened to the metasearch engine Disconnect, where Google banned their mobile metasearch engine.

Metasearch engines also take a risk on the technology they use to communicate with the search engine, and must be able to update their software when the search engines change the way the others access their search results.

Can I search in private on metasearch engines ?

Many private search engines are actually metasearch engines. By using a private metasearch engine, you are guaranteed privacy – your personal information is anonymised and not related to your search term, and then results are collected from Google, Bing, Yandex, or other search engines, as well as online directories and third-parties, all without you being tracked.

Of course, the search terms are still recorded by the big sources, but they can’t see what you search for.

Some metasearch engines you may have heard about include DuckDuckGo, StartPage and its partner metasearch engine Ixquick.

All of the metasearch engines listed above are private metasearch engines, and we at Privacore value the work they do and the effort they put in to ensure a higher level of online privacy.

Findx is a truly independent search engine and everybody can contribute

Findx is a true, independent and private search engine. We don’t rely on any of the big search engines. Findx sends its own spider out to build its own index, it maintains its own search and ranking algorithms so it can provide a higher level of privacy and transparency. Findx will also offer flexibility for searchers to modify the ranking algorithm to suit their search preferences. Plus all people can contribute as quality raters on findx, to improve search results for everyone. In addition the backend code that runs the findx search engine is open sourced.

We believe there is a need for a stand-alone web search engine in Europe, and we want to provide both the highest level of privacy and protection from tracking, and return truly unbiased results for European citizens. That is why findx is a true search engine, and not a metasearch engine.

Do you have more questions about search engines?

Did this raise any questions about the benefits of private search engines, metasearch engines or online privacy in general? Then feel free to ask us questions in our forum.

We would love to hear your thoughts about metasearch and search engines. Join our online community and let us know what you think.

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