Using Search Engines For Beginners - Part One

by Leo Commandeur

All SEO Articles

This article from The Mender (Issue 13),
Metamend's Web Site Optimization and Marketing Newsletter.


Finding what you are looking for on the Internet can at times be a very tasking exercise and one that can also consume all your free time. Doing some research one night for alternative treatments for breast cancer for a friend of mine, was nothing short of an exercise in frustration. My first attempt yielded over a million sites. Yikes! Here are a few small tips to help narrow the gap between what you want and what you get. The following article is an introduction to the basics, there are many enhanced searching capabilities available to the users of the Internet but mastering the basics will make you not only a better golfer, but a better surfer.

Forget power searching. Don't worry about learning to do a "Boolean" search. Most people only need to know a little basic "search engine math" in order to improve their results. Here's how to easily add and subtract your way to better searches on your favorite search engine. The information below works for nearly all of the major engines.

Tip #1 - Be Specific

The more specific your search is, the more likely you will find what you want. Don't be afraid to tell a search engine -exactly- what you are looking for. For example, if you want information about Windows 2000 bugs, search for "Windows 2000 bugs," not just "Windows." Or even better, search for exactly what the problem is: "I can't install a USB device in Windows 2000," for example. You'll be surprised at how often this works.

Tip #2 - Search Engine Math

Use The + Symbol to Add
You want to make sure a search engine finds pages that contain ALL the words you enter, not just some of them. The + (plus) symbol lets you do this. For example, imagine you want to find pages that have references to both John Glenn and NASA on the same page. You could search this way:

+Glenn +NASA
Only pages that contain both words would appear in your results. Here are some other examples:

+windows +2000 +bugs
This should find pages that have all three of the words on them, helpful if you wanted to narrow down a search to Windows 2000 bugs, rather than on Windows 2000 in general. The + symbol is especially helpful when you do a search and then find yourself overwhelmed with information. Imagine you wanted to reserve a camping space in Arizona's Grand Canyon National Park. You might start out simply searching like this:

Arizona Camping
If so, chances are, you'll probably get too many off-target results. Instead, try searching for all the words you want to appear on the type of page you're looking for:
e.g. Arizona+camping+reservations+grand canyon

Tip #3 Use The - Symbol to Subtract

Sometimes, you want a search engine to find pages that have one word on them but not necessarily another word. The - (minus) symbol allows you to subtract words from search queries.

For example, you want information about John Glenn but don't want to be overwhelmed by pages relating to NASA, you could search this way:

John Glenn-NASA
That tells the search engine to find pages that mention "John Glenn" but then remove any of them which also mention NASA.

Perhaps you are a fan of the original Star Trek series but instead keep finding pages about Voyager, Deep Space Nine or The Next Generation. Try a search like this:

star trek+original+series-voyager-deep-space-nine-next-generation

In general, the - symbol is helpful for focusing results when you get too many unrelated to your topic. Simply begin subtracting terms you know are not of interest to you and you'll get better results. Next Issue we'll learn how to Multiply and Divide for even better results.

Other articles from this issue:
- Administrator's Chalk Board
- Adapting to Seasonal Cycles
- Measuring Success Through Site Statistics - Part Two
- Preparing for Results
- Email Makes The Web Go Around

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