Effective Searching, part 1, Taming Google



Regular Google users -- and that’s most of us -- tend to ignore the Results bar that shows how many ‘hits’ the search engine has returned but the next time you are Googling for something take a close look. The chances are it is well into six or seven figures, which should tell you something about your choice of search keywords.


Of course you might be lucky and find what you are looking for in the first two or three pages of results but it can be hard work and very time-consuming, especially if what you seek is either obscure, or very common. There is a better way and with a little practice, plus a few simple tricks, you can dramatically speed up your searches and find exactly what you are looking for at or close to the top of the first page.


The problem with Google is that it blindly searches for whatever words you type into the box. If you enter a single word, unless it’s a well-known brand or an unusual name, it will be virtually impossible to find what you are looking for from the millions of hits. Adding a few more relevant keywords will help to improve the relevance of the hits but Google still assumes that you are interested in all of the search words, irrespective of where they are on a web page or in what order they appear.


It doesn’t help that Google tries to speed things up by excluding common words and characters, like the, how, where and to and single digits, but these may be essential to your search. Another problem is that Google isn’t very discriminating. For example, if you are interested in bass fishing, you don’t want your results cluttered with articles on hi-fi loudspeakers and large stringed instruments.


Fortunately Google has a number of tools that can help you to refine your searches and these have been combined into an easy to use utility called Advanced Search; just click the link next to the Search button on the Google home page. The page that opens looks quite daunting but it really is very easy to use and the most useful part is the shaded area at the top of the page. 


The first Search box, ‘with all of the words’ does exactly that and it will not exclude the previously mentioned common words when you click the Search button. In fact there’s an even easier way to do that in a normal Google Search box, simply put a plus sign ‘+’ immediately in front of any words that you want to make sure are included in the search.


Search box number two, ‘with the exact phrase’, can be really helpful when trying to find a quotation or song lyrics, and Google will only return pages where just those words occur, in that precise order. When you type keywords into the exact phrase box Google automatically inserts double quotation marks at the beginning and end, so now that you know how it’s done you can easily put them in yourself, using the normal Search box.


The third box on the Advanced Search page, ‘with at least one of the words’ is another shortcut to a search engine wrinkle called the ‘OR’ operator. Essentially you are telling Google to look for web pages with word 1, or word 2. This could be handy if you wanted to find motels or hotels in a particular area. Entering the words into the ‘with at least one…‘, box automatically inserts an upper case OR (the case is important) between the words, but as before you can do this manually in the search box on the Google home page (i.e. motels OR hotels macclesfield). 


Finally, the fourth box, ‘without the words’, is used to exclude a word or words in a search, so continuing with our earlier example, if you wanted to find motels and hotels in macclesfield, but do not want to know about bed and breakfast accommodation, just enter the words bed and breakfast into the ‘without the words’ box. As before there’s an easy way of doing it on the Google home page and that’s to put a minus sign ‘-‘ in front of the words you want to exclude, so it would look like this: hotels OR motels macclesfield -bed -and -breakfast.


These techniques are not exclusive to Google and most search engines use variations of the ‘+’ (AND), ‘-‘ (NOT) and OR operators, otherwise known as Boolean Logic, though the way they are used differs and for more details consult the web site’s Help or FAQ section.



Box Out


More Advanced Search Commands


Wildcard -- enter one or more asterisks ‘*’ to represent an unknown words or words in a phrase


Search for Synonyms -- place a tilde ‘~’ in front of the word.


Search a Website - to confine a search to just one website add site: plus the website address after the search word(s) e.g. houston site:www.telegraph.co.uk


Search for a Number -- you can limit a search to a range of numbers. To find washing machines costing between £200 and £250, for example, insert the two numbers separated by two full stops into the search query (e.g. washing machines £200..£300)


Link Search -- to find pages linked to a specific web page insert link: before the web address (e.g. link:www.telegraph.co.uk)


Search in Title -- inserting allintitle: before your keywords will restrict the search to documents that include your keyword in the title, i.e. allintitle:bass fishing





© R. Maybury 2006 1504


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