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How to Become a Better Google Searcher

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Searching Google is easy. Finding what you need is hard. In this article, Using Google Advanced Search author Michael Miller offers some great advice on how to speed up your web searching — and become a more effective Google searcher.
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Searching Google is easy. Finding what you need is hard. In this article, Using Google Advanced Search author Michael Miller offers some great advice on how to speed up your web searching – and become a more effective Google searcher.

Some of us log onto the Internet to check email, others to social network, still others to play games. But the one thing almost everyone does is search—search the web, that is, for useful and relevant information.

Given how much time each of us spends searching the web, most of us are surprisingly inefficient. It typically takes several tries to get the query right, and then we have to click through multiple pages of results to find that one page we were looking for.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could search faster and better? Well, you can, if you know what to do. With that in mind, here’s some good advice for conducting more effective and efficient Google searches. Try it – it works.

Create More Effective Queries

A web search consists of one or more keywords in a query. The more descriptive the keywords you enter, the more likely you’ll find what you’re looking for.

It helps, of course, to know exactly what you're looking for before you go online. Try to visualize what the ideal answer would look like – then figure out how to target a search for that ideal Web page. After all, how will you know you've found the right information if you don't know what information you're really looking for?

This argues in favor of doing a little homework in advance of your search. Think about what you're looking for, think about the keywords and phrases you want to use, think about which search engines would be best for this particular search. Take the time to thumb through a Thesaurus to come up with synonyms for your keywords. Think, then plan, then search.

Once you start searching, you can create more exact and powerful queries by using some of Google’s advanced search operators. For example, the OR operator lets you search for pages that include either one word or another. This is in contrast to Google’s default mode, which searches for web pages that include all the words in your query—effectively an AND search. (That means it searches for word1 AND word2 AND word3.)

If, instead, you want to search for pages that include either one word or another (but not necessarily both), you need to conduct a search using the OR operator between keywords. For example, if you want to search for pages that talk about either fish or fowl, but not necessarily fish and fowl together, use the query fish OR fowl. Make sure you type the OR operator in all uppercase, and you’ll find pages that match one or the other of your keywords.

Then there’s the matter of searching for an exact phrase. For example, searching for three gentlemen of verona as a phrase may generate different results than searching for three, gentlemen, and verona separately.

To search for an exact phrase, you need to enclose the entire phrase in quotation marks. This tells Google to search for the precise keywords in the prescribed order.

Using our previous example, instead of entering the query three gentleman verona, which searches for the three separate words, you instead enter “three gentlemen of verona”, with the entire phrase encased in quotation marks. Google then searches for the phrase rather than for the individual words, and returns a more precise match.

Here’s another one. Sometimes when you’re searching, it’s difficult to be sure exactly how something is referred to, or if there are multiple ways of talking about the same thing. The key is to search for synonyms of a given word – that is, different words that have the same meaning.

Fortunately, Google lets you search for similar words by using the ~ operator. Just include the ~ character before the word in question, and Google searches for all pages that include that word and all appropriate synonyms.

For example, if you’re searching for old furniture, other people might call it antique or used. So instead of searching for old furniture, search for ~old furniture. Google will return results that include the words old, antique, and used.

Now, if you’re not comfortable learning these (and other) fancy search operators, you can use Google’s Advanced Search page. This page lets you use all of these advanced search functions, and more, via a series of simple pull-down menus and checkboxes.

You access the Advanced Search page by going to Google’s main search page, clicking the Options (gear) button in the navigation bar, then selecting Advanced Search. The resulting page contains a number of options you can use to fine-tune your searches, without having to learn all those advanced operators. All you have to do is make the appropriate selections on the page, and Google does all the fine-tuning for you.

Figure 1 Google’s Advanced Search page.

One last thing about creating smarter queries. Google recently introduced a new feature dubbed Google Instant. When activated, Google Instant displays predicted search results on the search page as you type, instead of waiting for you to click the Google Search button. These instant search results can save time and help you fine-tune your query as you’re typing it.

Figure 2 Predictive search results with Google Instant.

To activate Google Instant, go to the main Google search page, click the Options (gear) button and select Search Settings. When the Preferences page appears, scroll to the Google Instant section and select the Use Google Instant option; then click the Save Preferences button.

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