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Last Updated: Friday, 8 June 2007, 13:05 GMT 14:05 UK
Click Essentials: Search engines

The web is big, so big in fact that sometimes trying to find a specific page, site or snippet of information can feel like trying to locate a particularly stealthy needle in a haystack the size of Everest.

More effective use of your search engine will speed up web surfing.

Search engines work by comparing the words you enter into the query option against a huge library of web pages. The search engine then employs software to read these web pages and index them.

Each search engine works slightly differently, but we have compiled some general tips to getting the best out of your search engine.

  • When trying to track something down on the web simply entering one word into a search option does not provide a search engine with enough information to retrieve a sufficiently narrow response. With hundreds of thousands or even millions of pages covering the same subject matter it helps to be specific. When starting a search think of as many words as possible that relate to what you are looking for. For instance if I want to find out about world leaders but I am only interested in female prime ministers and presidents I could enter: world leaders, female. If any of these words appear on a webpage, then that page will be returned as a result. This can however still lead to lots of pages being found all of them containing every word in the search, not all of them useful.
  • To really pin down a search use inverted commas. These help define phrases and mean the search engine will only look for web pages that contain that exact phrase. For example searching for Click retrieves thousands of results but searching for "Click BBC" in inverted commas narrows the search right down.
  • Search engines like Google ignore commonly used words, phrases and characters. If you need to use common words in a search add the + symbol to the query this actually helps the search engine out. So if I am searching for information on Star Wars episode 1 entering the search Star Wars Episode + 1 will harvest more specific results.
  • If a search word has more than one meaning like port which could be a naval reference or mean the drink. Use the - symbol to help define the search like this, entering port-sea helps the search engine to ignore the unwanted phrase or meaning.
  • If you are asking a search engine a question, letting the engine fill in the blank will speed up the query, this is done by adding an asterisk to the search. So you might want to know who made the first transatlantic flight, the query would be as follows: first transatlantic flight made by *. The responses will now fill in the blank.
  • Some search engines offer downloadable toolbars, these add a search field to your web browsers toolbar, these can be downloaded easily and offer a variety of search engine options all in one place, a useful time saver.
  • And finally, if you cannot find what you are looking for vote with your feet or more precisely your fingers, and try a different search engine. It might yield better results.

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