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Searching Strategies

Sandra Prior
Jun 9, 2008

Successful Internet searching begins even before you touch your keyboard or click on your mouse - it's when you consider what type of search you want to carry out.

If you're performing a very specific search - a company, product, or name of a person, then using a directory like Yahoo generally returns a small number of highly relevant pages.

When you're looking for something more unusual, like a friend's name, then you'll want to perform the widest possible search. In this case, a meta search engine like metacrawler is useful, interrogating several search engines for you with a single query.

With the Internet numbering more than 100 billion pages, it can take a few weeks before anything new is indexed by the search engines. If you're looking for information on a current topic, try searching the newsgroups instead.

For everything else use Google. It's uncluttered with adverts, has a large database of pages, and returns very relevant results - everything you need in a great search engine.

Choose Keywords

But, even the best search engine is only as good as the keywords you enter; choose them wisely to get the best results. The best approach is to be very specific, right from the start - enter up to five keywords that relate to what you want to find. For example, you live in Florida, USA and want to place a classified ad for an old computer you are selling, or you just upgraded your machine and want to get rid of the old hardware which still works perfectly and you'd like to earn some cash back. Go to Google and type in the search box; Florida Computer Hardware Classifieds. You'll be presented with the most popular classifieds to advertise your particular hardware.

Sometimes you'll get no pages returned, but that's fine, you can always remove a word or two and search again. When choosing which keywords to use, try to think about the different ways in which people might present information. If you're looking for reports on an error message, you need to allow for the possibility that anyone posting a fix for the problem will abbreviate the message. Enter only the most important parts.

Remember, that most of the Internet is still American, and the spelling changes accordingly. Bear that in mind when you're searching.

Learn the Rules

Every search engine has its own syntax, but there are some common rules that work just about everywhere. For example, placing quotes around a group of words such as "Florida Computer Hardware Classifieds" ensures you'll only find pages that contain those two words together, rather than "Florida" in one paragraph, and "Hardware" somewhere else. You could add words to be more specific - "Florida Computer Hardware Classifieds" desktop - but some search engines may then return sites that contain just one of your search terms. Add a "+" before each one, like +'Florida"+"Computer"+"Hardware"+"Classifieds"+"desktop" to tell the search engine that they are all required. One remaining problem with our search example is we're using upper-case letters. This tells most search engines that we want a case-specific search, so searching all in lower case is usually the best policy.

Advanced Strategies

Your final step to search engine mastery comes with a little lateral thinking about how the information you need is likely to be presented. Perhaps you want to learn HTML to build your own web page. Searching for 'html' in Google will return 250 million pages, which is less than useful. Try 'beginners guide to html', and that's cut down to 500 thousand and you're likely to find what you need in the first 20.

After some thought, you might decide to use an HTML editor instead. But which one is best? You could try searching 'html editors' but, as a phrase, that might be used in lots of irrelevant places. Much better to search for a few specific editor names, such as 'dreamweaver', 'frontpage', 'webweaver'. You should immediately find a number of pages comparing the different products.

Your best bet is to experiment and see what happens. Improving your search engine technique is the simplest way to get more out of your Internet connection, and any time you invest learning new tips will be speedily repaid.
About the Author
Sandra Prior runs her own websites at http://usacomputers.rr.nu and http://sacomputers.rr.nu.
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