The availability of web search engines offers opportunities in addition to those provided by bibliographic databases for identifying academic literature, but their usefulness for retrieving research is uncertain. A rigorous literature search was undertaken to investigate whether web search engines might replace bibliographic databases, using empirical research in health and social care as a case study. Eight databases and five web search engines were searched between 20 July and 6 August 2015. Sixteen unique studies which compared at least one database with at least one web search engine were examined, as well as drawing lessons from the authors’ own search process. Web search engines were limited in that the searcher cannot be certain that the principles of Boolean logic apply and they were more limited than bibliographic databases in their functions, such as exporting abstracts. Recommendations a! re made for improving the rigour and quality of reporting studies of academic literature searching.