31 July 2012

How to find what you're looking for... on the web

You know that the answer to your question is out there......you know that somewhere on the web is the information you need…..but you just can’t seem to find it!   If you’re having trouble finding exactly what you’re looking for on the web these tips may help.

Some basics first……these apply to all search engines:


Keyword search - be as specific as possible

With the billions of records on the internet the words you choose when you search can make a huge difference to the results you get.  For the best results, start with an obvious key word but add extra words to better describe what you are looking for.  For example, if you want to make a photo collage, instead of typing ‘collage’ you could start with ‘create photo collage’, or ‘create photo collage online’. 

Don’t use too many words

Just use the relevant words for what you’re searching for.  For example, rather than searching for ‘big owl I saw in the botanic gardens last week’, drop all the extra words that really aren’t relevant.  The information you need is about the bird, ‘I saw in’ and ‘last week’ aren’t needed.  They’ll actually decrease your chances of finding the information you need. 


Exact phrase

Most of the major search engines will match all of the words you put in the search box.  So if you enter the words paint car, the search engine will look for matches for the word paint OR the word car, and not limit itself to websites that contain both words.

To improve your search, use double quotation marks around your phrase or words, ie. "paint car".  This tells the search engine to find only those websites that contain the exact phrase "paint car", with the words in the same order.

Sentence case

Generally, search engines are case sensitive.  If you enter your search in all lower case, it will assume that you don't mind whether the matches are in upper or lower case.  So if you type the word "apple", matches will be made for Apple, apple and APPLE.  Typing capitals, however, will usually only return an exact match.

Using (+) and (-) signs in your search

Use the (+) and (-) signs to force certain words to be either included or excluded from your search.

You can use a (+) sign when there is a word that is essential to include.  For example, if you want to look up information about World War II, you might enter the words world war +II.  Leave a space before the +sign, but there is no space between the (+) sign and the word that follows it.

Likewise, you can use a (-) sign in front of a word that you definitely want left out of your search.  So, if you want to research flower shows, but you aren't interested in the Melbourne International Flower Show, you could enter the words flower shows -melbourne.  Make sure you leave a space before the minus sign but don’t leave a space between the minus sign and the word that follows it.

Ask a question

If you’re searching to find the answer to a question, or how to do something – then ask the question – what, when, where, why, who, how……how to make a photo collage in Picmonkey – where is Ouagadougou – what is the deadline for 2011 tax returns. 

A few more tips, just with Google:

Search with an image instead of words

You can use an image as your search query instead of words.  If you know what something looks like you just need to find an image of it either on the web or in your own photos, then use images.google.com.au to search for it.  You need to get the image into the search box in one of three ways

1.     Copy and paste the URL of an image from the web into the search box

2.     Upload an image from your computer

3.     Drag and drop an image into the search box

This is really useful if you want to find a similar photo to one you have – maybe a different angle, or a similar theme.  If it’s an identifiable landmark you’ll also see text results about that location.

What does it mean?

If you type define: at the beginning of your search you’re telling Google you want to know the definition of the word or phrase.  The results are not dictionary-based; they are as they are used in writing on the web. 

Search within a single domain

If you include site: in your search criteria, Google’s results will be restricted to those web sites belonging to that domain, eg. carbon tax site:.gov.au will find pages about the carbon tax only within web sites which end in .gov.au.  (There’s no space between site: and the domain type)

Just the facts

If you want news on a specific topic visit news.google.com and enter what you want to know about in the search box at the top of the screen.  Google will present you with a list of news articles on your topic, but from different news sources.  For just Australian news try news.google.com.au.  These two sites are also great places if you just want to see the latest news.

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