I confess I use Google exclusively, but there are other search engines out there. Let's next explore another well-known one: Yahoo.
At first glance the homepage seems cluttered and busy, especially when compared to Google's clean and simple search box. Yahoo has links all over the place: across the top where the search box is; down the left where scrolling over these opens a pop-up window (to close it, click the x in the top right corner); in the center where top news stories appear; and to the right where popular searches are shown. Whew!
Where to start?
Let's try a search and see if the results screen is less crowded. Type your hometown into the search box and click "Web Search." You could also search for images, videos, jobs (under the More tab), and other kinds of information, but we'll stick with the basics for now. You should get a nice list of webpages relating to your town, including the official website if there is one.
One thing to watch out for, both with Yahoo and Google, are sponsored sites. They will be on the right side and at the top of the search results, although the label's type face isn't prominent. These sites usually have something to sell and may or may not be relevant. These companies have paid to be included in results lists, which is why they might not really be on topic for you.
Yahoo also tries to organize the results for you down the left of the screen. Multiple mentions from the same source are grouped together, and it also lists some phrases to help narrow your search. The ellipses (...) replaces your search term(s), so if one of those phrases looks good, just click on it and Yahoo will redo your search.
Click the purple Yahoo logo to get back to the homepage. Take a closer look at some of the other links on the screen. Yahoo would like to be your one source for information. If you're constantly looking for sports scores or email or Facebook or movie information or news, you can find it all here. Yahoo may not offer the book search or news archives like Google, but it can be handy in keeping you up to date with current affairs.
Try your hometown search in Google and compare the results. They'll probably be about the same. Now try a more in-depth research question, like a list of medical symptoms or a topic from history (for instance, result of battle of gettysburg). How do the results differ (or not)?
Choosing a search engine for research may not be important anymore as you should be able to find what you need in any of them, but you'll probably find yourself drawn to a certain one for various reasons. Just don't be afraid to try others once in a while, something I should keep in mind myself.
Update 8/10: Yahoo is now powered by Bing, the search engine created by Microsoft.