Web Searching Tips from the Pros
by Clark L. and Kathryn H. Kidd
Our last column explored the wonders of search engines (Google in particular) and showed several examples of how you could use Google (www.google.com) to find anything from old recipes or song lyrics to pictures of current Church leaders. The intent was not to make you a search engine expert, but to open your mind to the fact that search engines have become a modern-day Urim and Thummim that puts the knowledge of the world at your fingertips. We thought that was the end of the story. But so many computer buffs wrote to say that they hadn’t learned a single new thing that we thought we’d take up the challenge and write a second, more detailed column on the subject. Since the last column was written, Clark attended a computer conference where one of the sessions focused on more effective web search techniques. (Isn’t it amazing how some folks are lucky enough to be paid for having fun?) This column will share some of the information he learned in that session.
First, we realize that Google is not the only search engine out there. But Google is our favorite as well as the favorite of most reviewers. We enjoy the low-key way in which they market their service, free of the annoying pop-up ads that plague other search engines. When you’re writing a column on search engines, you can never go wrong if you use Google as a springboard.
If you want to use another search engine, feel free to do so. In fact, when you run a Google search, you will see something like this display on the bottom of your results page:
If you want to try the same search on another search engine, Google has provided an easy way for you to just click on the name of one of four other popular search engines and run the same search there. One caution in doing this is that the search argument is passed to the next search engine just as you typed it. If you used a syntax that is specific to Google, your search may not work correctly on some of the other engines.
Let’s get down to some of the search tips specific to Google, although similar rules should apply to most search engines. One difference is that unlike some search engines, Google is not case sensitive (upper and lower case letters are treated the same way). Also, multiple words are connected with an “and” relationship, and the order of the words does not seem to matter. That means that all of the words you type must be found in the same document, or you will not get a hit (the web page will not appear in the search results list). As we mentioned in the last column, if the order the words should appear is important, those words should be enclosed in double quotes. Here are some examples of sample searches using these rules, and the number of hits that were returned for each search.
You may use the words OR and AND to separate words, and here case is important: OR and AND must be capitalized. You really don’t need to use AND, because that is implied, but it won’t hurt anything and it might make it easier for you to visualize what you seek. Also, you can enclose parts of the search argument in parentheses to group items together. Here are some examples of search arguments using these techniques, and the corresponding search results.
One handy trick is that you can place a minus sign in front of a word that you don’t want to find within the document being searched. If you were looking for information about the planet Saturn, you would certainly want to eliminate those pages referring to a Saturn automobile. Here are some examples of using this technique:
When your search argument is not tightly focused, you will get a result that may include thousands of sites. This wastes a lot of your time as you are forced to jump from site to site. It is usually better to refine your argument until you have a reasonable number of sites to review-usually less than 100. Of course, there is always a danger that you can miss something really great because the words that you chose for your search did not appear in the target document. Even for an expert, using a search engine is always a trial-and-error process.
If all of this seems too esoteric and obscure, you might be better off just to select the Advanced Search function from the Google home page. This will present a page with lots of boxes where you can type various combinations of search arguments without having to worry about the various syntax rules. In addition, the Advanced Search function offers some nice searching features that you won’t find on the main page. For example, you may specify what items are to be searched. You can search the entire page, or just the title section, or even the URL address of the page itself. For example, searching all URLs containing the word Mormon returns about 8,840 hits. You can also specify that pages will only be considered if they have been updated recently. This helps to eliminate those dusty hits for web sites that haven’t seen any changes since they were first constructed back in 1997.
Another useful feature allows your search to be limited to a specific domain name that you specify. For example, doing a search for “2002 general conference” on the Church’s official web site (www.lds.org) will return all the references (3,940 of them!) found just at that site. Want to be even more obscure? You can limit your search to pages written in a specific language. There is a pull-down menu containing about 35 different languages, from Arabic to Turkish. Searching the 3,940 general conference hits for French-only pages whittled the hit count down to 63. This feature appears to work on an “honor system,” where the page is actually assumed to be written in the language indicated in the page specification-an assumption that appears to be accurate in the majority of cases. Another nice feature is a filtered search option that eliminates pages that might be deemed unsuitable for the average user. As you know if you read our columns on filtering, there is no system that is 100% effective, and there is no accounting for the tastes of each person. But having some filtering in place should offer some protection from the rawest content out there.
One nice thing about Google is that the features seem to be upgraded and enhanced quite often. New to the Advanced Search page is an option that allows you to search for recent news stories. If you feel out of the loop about current events, just search for some keywords and you’ll be an expert in no time.
Some time ago we did an article about portals, also known as reference or index sites. These sites try classifying and categorizing all Internet content, much as librarians build book catalogs that try to organize all their books. Some people prefer to find information with a reference site, while some prefer to use a search engine. Google has combined the best of both worlds, in that it sponsors a reference site (directory.google.com) that can also be searched with the Google search engine. You can jump through the index pages until you get close to what you want, and then use the search engine to do the last little bit of work. It takes some experimentation to determine how the data are collected into the various categories. For example, after looking in Religion/Christianity/Denominations for “LDS” and “Mormon” and “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” we finally found success with “Latter-day Saints.” Once we got to that area, we used the search engine to look for “young women,” and came up with about 80 sites that looked pretty useful.
Building a good search engine is both an art and a science, as is learning how to use one effectively. We hope that the information provided in the past two columns will help you find all of the good things you seek in life-at least the things that you seek while you’re sitting in front of the computer.
2002Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.