How to use Google Effectively
How to Use Google Effectively
by Alfred P M
You’re on cloud nine and a half. The editor liked your pitch/query and she wants to see your article in three days. Three days is short notice, but you’re not worried. Piece of cake! In the Internet age, information is at your fingertips.
You rub your hands in glee, access the search site (most likely Google) and type your query (let’s say newsletters). Voila! In a flash you get the results. Great stuff this technology is, huh?
Wait a minute. You take a closer look. What’s this? Results 1-10 of 14,100,000! That’s 14 million results. Holy guacamole! It will take you three weeks to sort through this stuff.
Gulp! Cold fear now replaces the thrill of a few minutes ago. As Dennis Hopper says in Speed, “What DO you do?”
In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf says to Pippin (about his horse Shadowfax), “You do not ride Shadowfax: he is willing to carry you – or not. If he is willing, that is enough.”
Google is like Shadowfax in many respects. It’s fast and it usually gets you where you want to go. However, you have to tell it exactly where you want to go (i.e. what you want). That is the key to using Google or any other search engine.
Getting on the Horse
The easiest way to search for something in Google is to type the search string (what you’re searching for) in the search/input box (the text box on the Google page) and click the Search button (or press Enter).
In a flash, you get a bunch of results. However, unless you’ve framed your query (search string) properly, you’ll find that there are too many results to sift through, to find what you need.
That’s fine if you only have a vague idea of what you want. Most of the time though, you do have a reasonable idea of what you want. For instance, your editor might say, “I like your outline for the article on newsletters, but let’s focus on email newsletters.”
Grabbing the Reins
Okay, ‘email newsletters’ is much better. Type email newsletters in Google and you get about 5 million results. It’s better than 14 million (about 65 percent better) but it’s still too many. How can you search better?
A little search story
When you type a (multi-word) search string in Google, the engine searches through its database of web sites and finds the occurrence of all the words in the page, except the common ones (see Some Riding Pointers), and returns the results.
So, when you type email newsletters, Google will look for pages with both words — email and newsletters, in the same page — and return those results to your browser.
Reining it in
Therefore, if you want to search for the occurrence of a phrase (like ‘email newsletters’), then you must enclose the phrase in double quotes. Type “email newsletters” in Google and hit Enter and the number of results you get is about 660,000. That’s 0.66 million, about a 95% reduction. Not bad huh? Also, chances are that you will need to browse through only a few pages of results.
Choosing the Right Saddle
As you must have realized, what you put into Google determines what it throws out at you, which in turn determines how successful you are with your search. If you’re looking for information on Frank Sinatra and you type ‘music’ in Google, you’ll be banging your head on your desk in frustration.
A rose is a rose by any other name
Deciding on the search string requires you to think like a thesaurus. You need to be use synonyms and similar words to find what you want. For example, email newsletters are sometimes referred to as e-newsletters (or even e-zines, though this is not really correct) or electronic newsletters.
Filtering the results
Sometimes, whatever you do, you may find that you aren’t able to reduce the number of results. In such cases, you can search within the results of your original search. Here’s how to do this.
Click the Search Within Results link next to the Google Search button (at the bottom of the Results page)
Type your search string in the text box (in the next page) and press Enter.
Google will search only in the pages that it returned for your original search and then return the results.
Occasionally, you may want to exclude certain words from your search. If you’re a baseball fan, but you don’t like the Yankees, you can type Baseball -Yankees (put a minus (‘-’) sign in front of the word you want to avoid and a space before the minus sign) and your search will return results without the word ‘Yankees’.
Gosh, I’m such a klutz
Since Google is an intelligent search engine, if you mistype words, Google does the searching, but it also asks you if you meant to type something else (most likely the string you were aiming for). Try searching for Wryting Werld to see what I mean.
If different combinations of words don’t work, try out Google’s advanced features. You can access these features by clicking the Advanced Search hyperlink (next to the input box on the Google page).
With the advanced features, you can do restrictive searching (Example: use at least one of the words in the search), searching only for specific file formats (PDF, PS, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc), searching within a site (only for sites indexed by Google), page-specific searching, and so on.
Some Riding Pointers (Tips)
All-inclusive – Google’s search is inclusive, which means that all the words (excepting common ones like ‘is’, ‘for’ and ‘and’) that you type in the search box are included in the search. Google will tell you if it didn’t include a word that you typed, in its search.
Forcing the issue – You can force Google to include common words by adding a ‘+’ sign before the word or by using double-quotes.
You say PoTatO – Google searches are not case sensitive and everything you type is treated as lowercase. So, typing e e cummings or E E CUMMINGS or E e CuMmINgs will get you the same results in Google.
Google’s own directory – Not sure where to start? Maybe a directory search is right for you. You could go to http://directory.google.com and browse through the categories.
Sire, your horse is ready!
If you use Google regularly, you might consider downloading and installing the Google toolbar for Internet Explorer (http://toolbar.google.com). You can then type your search query directly in the toolbar and don’t need to access the Google page.
Opera, dubbed the fastest browser in the world, (www.opera.com) comes with the Google (and AlltheWeb) toolbar packaged with the browser.
I want to try other horses
While Google is arguably the best search engine on the web, you might want to try other search engines. Yahoo, MSN, AOL and AskJeeves are the popular engines, but here are some others you can try.
The Google Stable
By default, Google searches the Internet for all sorts of documents. You can also search for images (Images tab), search within Usenet (discussion) groups (Groups tab) and search within topics organized by directories (Directory tab). You can access these tabs by clicking the tab on the Google home page.
Taming Your Wild Horse
Searching on Google or any other search engine is a matter of trial and error. Like all other things in life, practice makes perfect. The more you use a search engine, the better you’ll get at figuring out how to make it give you the information YOU want.
Remember that a search engine is (mostly) only as intelligent as the query (search string) you feed it. Hopefully, this article has opened the door to the magical kingdom of Search Engines.
You can find loads of information about Google on their home page. Here are some links to get you started.
http://www.google.com/help/refinesearch.html – If the “simple” techniques leave you unsatisfied, check out Google’s advanced search page for more pointers on how to tame Google.
http://www.google.com/help/customize.html – Some pointers on how to customize your search results and preferences.
http://www.google.com/help/features.html – An explanation of some useful features in Google.
http://www.google.com/press/query.html – If you want to know how Google works, this simple page will tell you how.
http://www.google.com/help/interpret.html – A good diagram explaining the nuts and bolts of the Google Results page.
Copyright © 2003 Alfred PM