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Quality of Search Engines (24/07/2009 10:27:04 PM)

I've been asked alot over the past few weeks as to which search engine I use. The answer is Google. I don't have a need at this stage to change my search engine - so Microsoft's Bing or Yahoo! Search aren't things I would normally consider when I need to search for something quickly. Like most products, I use Google because I have no reason to change *yet*. Google is still a streamlined search engine with a no frills layout and generally a fast interface. So what about the competition? Bing is slightly more bloated with the unnecessary loading of images - but then again, that has *always* been the Microsoft way. Take a look at this parody video of packaging if Microsoft released the iPod. It is still light weight enough that your searches are purely that... searches. Finally we have Yahoo!7. It's as bloated as they come (the search page takes forever to load!), but Yahoo! serves more as a portal than just a search engine.

But let's get one thing straight. Using a search engine is about the quality of the results returned by whatever decision engine is driving it. Bing has been noted as potentially being better than Google - so tonight (at the time of writing this) is about finding out which search engine offers the best results for a set of 10 keywords. I've tried keeping these keywords specific and general, based on things I *have* searched for in the past. I encourage you to do the same thing and compare the search engines as I have done here.

  1. Computer Stores in Clayton
  2. Video Game Music
  3. Train Timetables
  4. Cheap Games
  5. Things to do in Gippsland
  6. The Sims 2 Sheet Music
  7. ASP.Net C# Data Abstraction
  8. Content Delivery Network Hosting
  9. Left 4 Dead Console Commands
  10. Removing Mites from Blue Tongue Lizards

Computer Stores in Clayton

For this phrase, Google correctly identified MSY and Scorptec on the first two pages. I'm surprised Centrecom didn't make the page, but with MSY listed as Result Number 1 followed by Scorptec at Position 4, these are pretty good results. You'd find pretty quickly your stores. No maps though pointing to the store. Bing was the least relevent - in fact, so irrelevant that MSY didn't even make the first page (or second or third!!!). Scorptec was listed multiple times through the results - which suggests a problem with relevancy scoring. The maps were absolutely attrocious pointing to Game stores in America!!! Result number 1 wasn't even a computer store - it was a consultancy / business solutions company. Unacceptable. Yahoo however was on a par with Google with quality of results. Both MSY and Scorptec appeared (however Scorptec appears number 1 with MSY down the list) but surprisingly also links to CCW through Techstores. So with the diversity of results slightly better on Yahoo - Yahoo is the winner.

Results: 1. Yahoo, 2. Google, 3. Bing

Video Game Music

Ok - this isn't something everyone searches for Daily, but generally speaking; OCRemix, VGMix, VGMusic are widely known amongst the niche community as primary resources for Video Game Music. So now time for the results. Google returns both VGMusic and OCRemix. GameMusicThemes is pretty tiny and was placed higher than OCRemix giving the illusion it's better. GameAlbums is a new one, but the site is fairly incomplete. It's a pretty average result. Yahoo returns oddly enough, a Wikipedia entry. Not useful for my purposes (I'm looking to listen to music). VGMusic appears on the results, but Yahoo! seems to be returning alot of "information" including how to write music. Arguably, the term is fairly vague so Yahoo or Google could be placed either way. Finally, Bing returns VGMusic number 1, and EA Music somewhere on the page (which is quite interesting). Bing has tried to combine Information with Music - but failed to return OCRemix. So here are my results:

Results: 1. Google*, 2. Bing, 3. Yahoo* (* these could be switched depending on your desired goal).

Train Timetables

Technically I googled it to get Metlink's website, but I figured it would be interesting to see if the search engines can detect my localisation as Victoria / Melbourne. For this search, I forced Bing to use the Australian counterpart (for some reason, it assumed I was in the UK). From Google, all I get is Australian train operators as well as Metlink at result 2. This is a good set of results from Google. Yahoo! was on a par with Google, no real changes. Bing tried to be smart and build a URL for Metlink based on the fact "Train Timetables" had it's own page on Metlink's website. In this case - this wasn't as useful as going to the home page. Having said that, the page *did* have a list of train timetables I could look at. As a result, Bing is a better result - ALTHOUGH - the search engine did not pick up Australia as my localisation.

Results: 1. Bing, 3. Google, 3. Yahoo (Yahoo and Google were on a par this time).

Cheap Games

Looking for cheap Video Games? I've found a few websites but nothing that I would commit to. CDWow has some cheap games, but I would also expect the likes of EBGames and Steam to show up. While they aren't always the cheapest, it would be nice to get a list of video games. Google returned some spam (as expected with the phrase), but ultimately did return me GameHead, ShopBot (a website designed to search for the cheapest price, ReplayGames etc... so the results were usable. Yahoo returned a pretty similar set where as Bing produced the biggest pile of spam links I have ever seen.

Results: 1. Google*, 1. Yahoo*, 3. Bing (*Results were indistinguishable)

Things to do in Gippsland

If you read one of my last blog posts, you'd be aware that I tried finding things to do in Gippsland. There has to be something out there, and I was using Google and got no where. So I figured maybe the other search engines are more appropriate for this? Google returned bugger all but we did get GippslandTourism as a website. I would have thought the council websites (such as Baw Baw, Latrobe City) would show up, but most just ended up as spam. Yahoo on the other hand disguised a Melbourne based page as Gippsland. Unacceptable! However, it did also return more "useful" information than Google (at least on the first page). Bing produced much the same level of usefulness as Google this round, linking to websites that have little to do beyond Phillip Island. I can't say I expected much, but Yahoo wins this round by a very small margin.

Results: 1. Yahoo, 3. Google*, 3. Bing* (*Results were indistinguishable)

The Sims 2 Sheet Music

For something a little more specialised, I am after some sheet music or some cues to playing some of the music on Keyboard. I can't sight read, but I can use some ideas from proper sheet music to improve my playing. Google returns me with hamienet which I use often, and The Sims 2 website. A couple of YouTube videos were there as well (which kind of has some relevance), but Hamienet is probably the closest I got to some sheet music. Bing returned YouTube videos and The Sims 2 website. Yahoo was more intelligent and actually linked to at least one piece which *was* useful when I found it after hunting through Google. Yahoo did also have some Spam. Now, this is where my results need some explaining. Bing is clearly last - more garbage than the others. I'm placing Google first because of Hamienet AND The Sims 2 website. Yahoo is a very close second, and could be considered first if you just wanted some sheet music to play. But for my purposes, Google is first here.

Results: 1. Google*, 2. Yahoo*, 3. Bing (*These could be swapped depending on your requirements)

ASP.Net C# Data Provider Abstraction Layer

I was looking ways to implement a Data Provider Abstraction Layer. It's quite a simple concept that allows programmers to define the database in one layer, and run an "abstracted" version of queries in an Access Layer. The end result basically means you code your queries and results in your Data Access Layer, point to the Abstraction Layer which basically translates your Queries and Parameters to the respective control (or monkeys if you had a monkey layer). So I did actually search for this one. Google did return me relatively quick some implementations on CodeProject, but wasn't quite what I was after. I did eventually find a blog with a useful example and was able to build my DPAL relatively quickly. Bing returned me Wikipedia (I can't think of anything more useless in this scenario!), but did return me some proper DPAL implementations. Yahoo! missed the point (DPAL not DAL) and thus I got results to do with caching. Not what I was after.

Results: 1. Google*, 1. Bing*, 3. Yahoo (*Both Google and Bing produced correct results)

Content Delivery Network Hosting

This one is fairly simple, I need to find a CDN for hosting a live stream. The results on this one were interesting. Google produced a tonne of Hosting companies to choose from. These aren't ranked in any order, but I quickly was able to find suitable cloud hosting for my purposes. Bing produced a range of information again, some hosts but predominantly information on what a CDN is. The key word is Hosting. I was hoping to find some prices and companies. Yahoo! was very similar to Bing on this one, although did produce slightly more hosting results than information results.

Results: 1. Google, 2. Yahoo, 3. Bing

Left 4 Dead Console Commands

If you haven't heard of Left 4 Dead, it's a Zombie Shooting Video Game. Anyway, to make the game interesting - you can change some variables such as increasing the number of Zombies your computer will render at any one time, or just spawning more enemies. Anyway, what I am after is a complete list of commands. Google returns me alot of quesions asking for the whereabouts, but I also got a list in the first two results. Bing was relatively similar but Yahoo got the result first. This one is pretty indistinguishable all round given I got the results straight away - so it's a 3 way tie.

Results: 1. Google, 1. Yahoo, 1. Bing

Removing Mites from Blue Tongue Lizards

Trying to find number 10 wasn't easy, but then I remembered the difficulty in finding a way to remove mites from a lizard. Google had the infromation hidden under forums, what I was after was proper information from someone who has taken the time to write and publish information (rather than a quick reply to a "HELP!" question. Yahoo! provided me with the better quality of information sites to do with reptile care, and Google provided me more cautionary results rather than treatment. Yahoo was more relevant to the subject matter. Bing also produced relevant information which makes this result pretty indistinguishable as well.

Results: 1. Google, 1. Yahoo, 1. Bing


So, with these taken into consideration, the scorecard is as follows (lower the better):

Google: 14
Yahoo: 18
Bing: 21

Clearly the statistics are based around my personal preference as to which results provided me with the best all round information, and it's clear that Google is leagues ahead of Bing. Yahoo! is interesting though - in some cases, the information was a much better match than Google - but not so much that Google was useless compared to Yahoo!. Bing on the other hand seemed to miss the point in most searches. Where Bing did excel though was in returning information rather than commercial. Having said that, Google and Yahoo also displayed information - generally to a lesser extent unless my phrase was tailored for an information specific purpose. At this stage, I could probably get away with using Yahoo! and even consider using Yahoo! if Google wasn't returning the quality of information.

What is clear, however, is that Google returns the results I expect. They may not always be perfect, but they generally get me to where I want to be. You could argue that it's up to the web developers to make their websites better for Search Engines. However, the point of a search engine is to find information quickly and accurately. Irrespective of the phrase I put in, I should get consistency in the results I am commanding. Some of my phrases above are not as specific as they could be, but that's where Google appears to be working with me. Where I miss out on key points that may alter the quality of search results in the likes of Bing and Yahoo!, Google does seem to understand what it is I am looking for.

At the end of the day, it's up to you what search engine you use - but it's definitely something worth investigating. For the time being though, I'll keep Google bookmarked for my searches.

- - Craig Mattson

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