Search Engines

Search Methods

We all know search engines and directories exist but what we really need to know is how to use them to good effect and considering the statistics above, it seems even more essential. Search engines and directories can be classified into general categories depending on the material or information you are searching for.

The key thing to remember is that search engines are only as effective as the terms you supply. If you don’t include as many phrases or words as you should, or you misspell words, or you are searching for the wrong thing, the results will be flawed.

To begin with it may help to limit yourself to the major search engines and progress from there. Always use a search engine’s ‘advanced search’ help facility, these will give you detailed instructions on the best way to conduct a search according to their requirements and will give you the best chance of securing the information you are looking for. Obviously one search engine can’t find everything on the Web. The amount of information available on the internet grows every minute as new pages are listed and old ones are replaced, expanded or removed.

Useful tips:


  • Create a list of keywordsCreate a list of keywords and phrases before you use the search engines. Your list should be designed to produce the longest list of relevant pages from the search engines. Enter the words or phrases into a few selected search engines. When you see the results of your searches, add new terms from the results to your own list of keywords.
  • Define your searchFinding results with a search engine is not a problem; the challenge is to create a search that excludes irrelevant pages. To search for documents or pages about writing articles, start by entering the keywords “writing” or “articles” to see what comes up. If you look at the results you might find that the words “writing” and “articles” will appear separately in many documents. If you enter the word “freelance” you might find that ”freelance” will appear separately in many documents too. You need some way to link these words so that the pages include combinations of these words to get the best results. To do this you need to use operators.
  • Learn to use “operators”Operators are symbols or special words that sit alongside the keywords in a query and tell the search engine how to process them. These can be used to refine searches. Operators let users specify whole phrases or words to exclude, or words that should appear, and words that should appear close together.
  • Phrase searchingWith AltaVista, Infoseek, Excite, and Yahoo!, it is possible to specify phrases by putting them in quotation marks (“”). It should have become clear that if you put the keywords writing or articles into a search engine it produces too many irrelevant hits. You are not looking for all of the documents that contain the keywords writing and articles or even freelance you are trying to find only those documents that contain the phrase “writing articles” and/or the word freelance.

    Try searching for the whole phrase “writing articles” and compare the results with the writing and articles search.

  • Includes and Excludes (+/-)To make the search even more precise, you can include and exclude certain terms. If you add a plus sign (+) in front of a term in the search box, the search engine will know that the term must appear in the pages. If you add a minus sign (-) in front of a term, the search engine knows that the term must not appear in the pages.
  • Boolean logic (AND, OR, NOT, NEAR)AltaVista and Excite use Boolean, or proximity, operators (always in uppercase) instead of includes and excludes (+/-). Boolean operators can add even more specificity to a search. By placing one of the Boolean operators between terms you can include and exclude terms, find cases where terms occur close together, and account for synonyms for words in a phrase. Here are some basic Boolean operators:


    AND: writing AND articles: Find all pages containing both the terms writing and articles anywhere on the page.

    OR: writing OR articles OR freelance: Find all pages containing the term writing. Find all the pages containing the term articles. And all pages containing the term freelance.

    AND NOT: writing AND NOT fiction: Find all pages that contain the term fiction. Of those pages, exclude ones that contain the term fiction.

    NEAR: writing NEAR articles: Find all pages that contain the terms writing and articles within 10 spaces of each other.

    Several operators can be used at once with parentheses to create even more complex searches. But be careful where you put the parentheses:


    (writing OR articles) AND freelance: Find pages that contain the terms writing and articles. Find pages that contain articles and freelance.

    writing OR (articles AND freelance): Find pages that contain the term writing. Find pages that contain the terms articles and freelance.

    (writing NEAR articles) AND freelance: Find pages that contain the phrase writing within 10 characters of the term articles and contain the term freelance somewhere on the page.


    Direct Hit
    Northern Light
    Scrub The Web
    UK Plus
    Yahoo/Yahoo UK
    The BBC Webguide

    NB. Search engines and directories are subject to frequent take-overs and re-structuring.

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