What is the Invisible Web?

When you research a topic using a search engine, such as Google, millions of search results typically appear. Did you know that’s only a small fraction of the information that is available on the Internet? The Invisible Web is a large area of the Internet that contains information that doesn’t show up in search engine results. It’s not necessarily invisible, or hidden, but Google, Bing, and other search engines cannot find or display the information found on the Invisible Web.

Why am I unable to find this information on Google? Why is it invisible?

The Invisible Web contains information that is usually behind one of these screen types:

  1. Login screen, such as a paid subscription database or subscription service. Some examples include ProQuest databases, Netflix, and many others that require a paid subscription.
  2. CAPTCHA screen. These CAPTCHA screens are created to prevent bots from accessing websites. Many ticket purchasing sites have pages that sit behind CAPTCHA screens.
  3. Private URL that isn’t linked to an actual website. For example, when sharing a Google Doc, individuals can share a URL to access a specific Doc. This URL isn’t linked to a website and will not show up in a search engine result.
  4. Private social media page. Private Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media accounts contain information that does not show up on search engines.

Since the pages on the Invisible Web sit behind these four types of screens, they are unable to be found by search engine web crawlers. When you search for a topic, search engine web crawlers read websites and URLs across the Internet and bring the findings back to the searcher. Items on the Invisible Web are hidden from web crawlers.

Why would I want to access the Invisible Web?

The Invisible Web contains a lot of authoritative information that is extremely helpful when doing research projects. Some of the items found on the Invisible Web can include:

  • Scholarly journal issues and articles
  • Newspaper issues and articles
  • Magazine issues and articles
  • E-books and other online books
  • Videos and films
  • Private social media accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and others
  • Other materials such as dissertations, white papers, scientific reports, and other types of articles that are written or made by professionals, experts, or organizations.

How can I access the Invisible Web?

The invisible web can be accessed in many ways. Your school or public library most likely subscribes to numerous databases for research or entertainment purposes. Refer to your library’s website to find the databases they subscribe to. You will probably need your library barcode number and a password to log in to the database. If you’re not sure how to log in, ask the librarian for help.

If you’re attempting to access a database or service that requires a username and password, and your library does not already have a subscription to it, you may have to pay a fee to use it.

Anything else I should know?

While Google, Bing, and other search engines are a great place to find information, much of the content on the Invisible Web, specifically the subscription database platforms, are authoritative and credible. If you’re seeking trustworthy information for a research project or assignment, attempt to include information from databases.

While researching, be sure to cite your sources in APA formatMLA format, or Harvard referencing using Cite This For Me citation tools!