Getting The Most Out of Search Engines

Search engines are our main tools for finding specific information on the web. Without search engines we would have to know the URL to all websites we want to visit. This would make things like researching and discovering new content nearly impossible.

Even though we use the term “search engine” to mean all websites that provide web searching capabilities, in actuality there are four types of search engines. There are those that use robots (crawlers or spiders) such as Google, those that use directories such as OpenDirectory, those that are a hybrid between robots and directories such as Yahoo, and those that use pay per click. In all types we are really searching an index of websites that the search engine contains. How these indexes are created is what makes them different.

Search engines that use robots create an index of sites based on what their crawlers find. The site index is updated automatically as it crawls the web and finds new sites and changes to existing sites.

Directory based search engines have an index created by human hands. Webmasters submit their site information to the index and/or editors working for the search engine write up descriptions of websites to put in the index. Any updates done to a website must be submitted by hand as well.

Hybrid search engines use both robots and directories, which act the same as the sites that use each type individually. Usually the results are shown separated so that the user knows what they are seeing.

Pay per click search engines can be found on almost all search engine sites these days and they also exist as stand alone sites as well such as FindWhat. These are search results that come up because webmasters pay to have their site in the index. Usually these search engines also have free submission but it takes longer for a site to get in the index. On some sites, the ranking of the results are determined by which site is the highest bidder such as with Google AdWords.

All of these search engine types are very useful, but how do you get them to produce the results you are looking for? Here are some tips to have more successful searches.

  • Pick terms that relate to your topic and keep in mind that the more terms you use the narrower your search results will be.
  • Skip simple words like a, the, and my, unless they are part of a proper name.
  • Use Boolean Operators on sites that recognize them such as Google, which recognizes symbols and Altavista, which recognizes symbols and words.
    • Quote marks ‚Äú‚Äù: These tell a search engine to look for exactly what is within the quote marks and only that. All search results will reflect the words inside the quotes. Order and format matter with this type of operator. Ex: ‚Äúblack lab dogs‚Äù
    • AND + (plus symbol): This tells a search engine to only pull up pages where both words around the AND exist. Order and format do not matter on this type of operator. Ex1: black AND lab AND dogs Ex2: black+lab+dogs
    • OR: This is what search engines do by default. This operator tells the search engine to pull up any webpage that contains any of the entered words. Ex: ‚Äúblack OR lab OR dogs‚Äù is the same as ‚Äúblack lab dogs.‚Äù
    • NOT ‚Äì (minus symbol): This tells the search engine to exclude whatever is next to this operator. Ex1: black dogs NOT lab Ex2: black dogs ‚Äìlab
    • Parentheses (): This tells the search engine to search for a certain keyword before using the other keywords that are entered. A group of keywords and other Boolean operators can be put in the parentheses too.
  • Results are ranked by how many times your keywords appear on a site or in a site description.
  • The amount of results will be displayed usually at the top of the page. You should be able to find a good link within the first 10 pages, but if you do not you will need to rethink your search terms. If very few results appear and none are what you need, you will want to simplify your search terms by dropping one or two.
  • The results usually contain the title of the website page, a short description, and the website URL. If you are using Google, you will also see things like a ‚ÄúSimilar pages‚Äù link that performs another search for pages similar to the one you clicked the link on, the ability to translate the page to your chosen language if possible, the ability to translate PDF pages into HTML, and a cached version of the website from the last time the Googlebot visited the site, which can be useful if the site link isn‚Äôt working.
  • Use the Advanced Search option if available to perform more specific searches, to shorten a long list of results, or to search a specific website.