The Web may seem like a vast ocean when it comes to finding something you need. Thankfully, search engines can help turn oceans of information into small pools that make finding information easier.
Before we dive in, let’s talk a bit about how search works on the Web. Search engines go out and try to account for every word on every webpage. All this information is then organized for easy reference.
When you search for a word, the search engine finds all the pages where the word appears, and displays them in the search results. Usually the pages that appear highest in the search results have lots of other web pages linking to them. Each link acts a vote to say, “This may be a good resource.”
The problem is that there are often too many results. You need a way to reduce the number of results so you can find what you need. Let’s look at how this works.
Say you’re looking for a specific kind of fish, and these represent all the websites on the Web. Searching for FISH doesn’t help much. There are way too many results. You need to be more specific.
Try to imagine the exact fish and describe it in the search box. You’ll see that each word you use gets you closer to what you need. You can do this for any website by imagining the website that has your answer. What’s the title of the page? What words appear on it? If you put those words in the search box, you’ll get closer to finding answers.
But to be a smart searcher, you should know some basic shortcuts. Let’s say you’re looking for words that appear together, like a phrase or a quote. An example is a search for information on sand sharks. If you search for it like this, the search engine looks for pages with SAND and SHARKS. To get better results, put quotes around the words like this. It limits the results to the exact phrase.
Here’s another shortcut. Words often have multiple meanings. Consider the word MULLET which is both a fish and a hairstyle. A search for MULLET may give you a number of results about the hairstyle, but fewer about the fish.
To remove the results about hair, place a hyphen or minus sign just before the word you want to exclude, which means “show me the pages about mullet, but take away results relating to hair.” By being specific, and using words and symbols that remove useless information, you can find exactly what you need, and keep the Web from swallowing you whole.
This video introduces the best ways to use search engines to find information on the Web. It uses real-world examples that illustrate ways to reduce useless results and includes:
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