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Search the Web More Efficiently: Tips, Techniques and Strategies (Part II)

By Daniel Bazac
Posted Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Which Search Tool Should You Choose?

* If you're looking for specific information use search engines.

* If you're looking for a unique or obscure search term or if you want to make an in-depth analysis of what's out there on a specific subject, then use meta search engines.

* If you're looking for general information on popular topics, use subject (web) directories.

* If you're looking for scholarly information use virtual libraries.

* If you're looking for real-time information or for dynamically changing content such as the latest news, phone book listings, available airline flights, etc., then use specialized databases (invisible or deep web.)

There are thousands of search engines, hundreds of meta search engines and dozens of web directories and specialized databases. Choosing the right search tool - from the start - can make the difference between a successful search and a frustrating experience.

Before Starting the Search

The easiest way to find information is when you know a web page Internet address or URL (Uniform Resource Locator) such as Fortune Magazine at (http://www.fortune.com). You can find these addresses on business cards, TV commercials or newspapers. Simply type the URL in the browser's address box and hit the (PC) or (Mac) key.

Be aware that in most browsers, you do not have to type "(http://)" or even "www" before the domain name. You can access a site simply typing the domain name such as "sony.com."

Special note: Be careful when you copy and paste a long URL from an email message or from some web sites. URLs that span two lines have a gap (space) between the last character of the first line and the first character on the second line. First, get rid of the gap and then paste it in the browser's address line.

Other times you may not know the URL but... you can guess it. Often companies will use their name, acronym or abbreviated name followed by ".com", such as ibm.com or apple.com. The same thing is true for educational institutions (add the ".edu" suffix) or government sites (add ".gov") So, whenever you don't know an URL, you can try to guess it.

If you do not know the URL, you'll have to find it by searching the Internet. In many cases, a simple search on the name of an organization within most search engines will return a direct hit on their web site.

Tips For Searching Smarter:

* Read the search engine's "search tips" or "help" page before using a search tool. Strangely enough, most of the time you'll find the "search tips" link on the "Advanced Search" page or on the "results page." Anyway, regularly check the search tips page because the rules often change.

* Customize the output of the results. Use the search engine's "preferences" page. Some search tools allow you to select the value for:
* the total results per page; usually 10 by default (select * the maximum - often 100) * the search tool's timeout - select the maximum * the search depth - select maximum. Be sure to save the new "settings" or "search preferences" for the next time you use the search tools. Also, set the browser you use to accept cookies.

Tips To Make Your Search Faster:

If you're searching for information and you are not interested in graphics on the pages you see, turn off or disable graphics. You can also turn off sounds, animation, Java, JavaScript, etc. See your browser documentation for instructions.

If you decide to keep the graphics, in the case of a "heavy" page, you can always press the button in the browser, immediately after you see the text and before the graphics are entirely loaded.

More Tips:

* Most search tools are case-insensitive which means that you can construct a query - your search request - by typing all the words - even proper names - in lower case text.

* If you type a long query, most of the search tools' search boxes are not very wide so you cannot see the entire query. Write the query in a word processor and then "copy and paste" into the search box. Be aware that Google™ only allows 10 words in the search box.

* Some search tools offer an option called "similar pages" (Google™) or "related pages" (AltaVista and Teoma.) Clicking on that option will show you relevant results for the page you're interested in.

* Some search engines have a function called "see more hits/results/pages from the same domain." Sometimes it can be useful.

* Also, some search tools, such as Google™, allow you to see an English translation for a results page that is written in a foreign language. If you want to translate a web page and you have the URL, you can also use:

* Systran [http://www.systransoft.com/] * Fagan Finder [http://www.faganfinder.com/translate/] or * alphaWorks (IBM)
[http://www.alphaworks.ibm.com/aw.nsf/html/mt]

Remember, don't expect perfect translations because that seldom happens.

* Looking for pages in a specific language? Some search engines (Google™, AlltheWeb, etc.) have an advanced search page that allows you to select the language from the pull-down menu.

* If your search terms contain letters not present in the English alphabet such as "é" or "ü" (example fiancé or München), use Fagan Finder's (Search Engine Ultimate Interface) which allows you to use these special letters in many major search engines. It makes a big difference. A search for Munchen in Google™ gives 570,000 results while for München - "u" with umlaut - gives 51,700,000 - almost 10 times more.

So, let's start searching!

Most of the search tools can be searched using keywords. Web directories and the invisible web databases can also be searched by browsing categories and subcategories.

Start with a popular search engine such as Google™, for example.

Before typing the keywords, take your time and brainstorm relevant words. Create a list of search terms. Write them down. A few seconds of brainstorming could save you minutes or hours of retrieving irrelevant results.

Advice for Searching Better:

* Select the most descriptive words. Brainstorm thoroughly.

* Use at least two keywords.

* Place the most important words or phrases first.

* Whenever two or more words can appear in exact order, enclose the words with double quotation marks ("word 1 word 2".) Example: "United States." If you use a longer phrase, you will achieve more precise results. With a very long phrase, however, you may get zero results. Some search engines allow you to select the "phrase" option in the pull-down menu on their advanced search page or you can type it in special phrase search box, so you don't have to use quotes.

* When possible, use unique, rare or unusual keywords. The more uncommon / obscure or less frequent the keywords you use are, the fewer and more relevant results you will get.

* Use nouns and objects as keywords. Do not use the so-called "stop words" such as "what," "where," "the," "in," "and," etc. Many search tools ignore them. If you need a stop word to appear in the results, place the implied Boolean operator "+ " in front of that word. The standard Boolean operators AND, OR, NOT (or AND NOT), NEAR, BEFORE, AFTER and the Boolean logic "(parenthesis)", are used to construct complicated queries. The implied Boolean operators "+" and "-" can replace the AND and NOT respectively. An example of Boolean logic is (tips OR tricks) AND ("search engines" OR "web directories"). It will find tips or tricks for search engines or web directories. Check the search tool's tips to see if they accept Boolean operators. For example Google™ does not support full Boolean logic.

* Do not use common terms such as Internet, Web, etc. except for cases that it is necessary. (For example, the query is "searching the web" with quotes.)

* Avoid redundant terms and complicated query structures.

* Choosing the right words for your query is the most important part of web searching. The more specific the search term, the more relevant your results will be and the more likely it is that you will find what you seek. Remember, work smarter not harder.

* The secret to constructing a professional query is to type words you expect to find in the matches.

Note: Some search tools, such as Ask Jeeves allow you to use the so-called "natural language." This means that you can construct a query as a question in plain English, such as "What's the weather in LA?" When you have a specific question in mind, these tools can be helpful.

Please see Part III.

About the Author
Daniel Bazac is the Search Engine Marketer for Web Design in New York [http://www.web-design-in-new-york.com], a site design, search engine optimization and promotion company. He also maintains Bazac Weblog [http://www.bazac.blogspot.com/] a blog about the search engines and search engine marketing news and articles. He can be reached at mailto:danielbazac@hotmail.com .