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Search the Web More Efficiently: Tips, Techniques and Strategies
By: Developer Shed
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    Search the Web More Efficiently: Tips, Techniques and Strategies
    by Daniel Bazac

    Studies show that after email, searching the Web is the most
    popular activity on the Internet. Searching is easy; finding
    what you're looking for can sometimes be difficult.
    Hopefully the advice below will make your next Web search a

    Do you really need the Web?

    Before using the Web to search for information, you'll have
    to ask yourself if the Web is the most appropriate medium to
    use to find your information. You can find a florist shop in
    your neighborhood faster by using the local, printed Yellow
    Pages instead of using the Web. And sometimes a library can
    give you better, more comprehensive answers than the Web.

    However, in most of the cases, the best and fastest way to
    find information is... a Web search.

    Obviously, the first thing you need to search the Web is a
    computer with Internet access.

    Before really starting your search, you'll have to decide
    which browser you are going to use. As a reminder, a
    browser, according to is a program "that
    provides a way to look at and interact with all the
    information on the World Wide Web." You can select a
    popular browser such as Explorer, Netscape, Mozilla or Opera
    or you can use an alternative browser. My favorite: Avant
    Browser. (I have NO connection with
    Keep in mind that some browsers are faster or have
    more options. You can download these browsers from their
    companies' web sites.

    Tools for searching the Web

    There are many search tools available: search engines,
    subject directories / virtual libraries, invisible (deep)
    web databases, meta search engines, etc.

    A search engine is a keyword searchable database of Internet
    files that uses a software program to continually scour the
    Web. The resulting information is then indexed and stored in
    its database.

    My favorite search engines are:

    * Google™ [ ]
    * AlltheWeb [ ]
    * MSN [ ]
    * Teoma [ ]
    * AltaVista [ ]
    * WiseNut [ ]

    A subject directory (web directory) is a searchable
    collection of Web pages gathered, selected and organized by
    human editors into hierarchically subject categories. A
    virtual library is a web directory that includes highly
    selective links, chosen mostly by librarians.

    Web directories cover a much smaller proportion of the Web
    but using them will bring you more highly relevant results.
    The largest web directories index a few million pages
    compared with the billions of pages indexed by some major
    search engines.

    Remember that the web directories - like the search engines
    - do not search the Web directly. Instead, they search their
    own databases of indexed Web pages. Also, be aware that
    directories might not be up-to-date. Some search engines are
    in fact hybrid search tools because they are both search
    engines and web directories. (Google™, for example, has a
    search engine and a directory, powered by Open Directory

    Some widely used web directories are:

    * Google™ Directory [ ]
    * Open Directory Project (ODP) [ ]
    * Yahoo! [ ]
    * Zeal [ ]
    * JoeAnt [ ]
    * Gimpsy [ ]

    Popular virtual libraries include:

    * Librarians' Index to the Internet [ ]
    * Internet Public Library [ ]
    * The WWW Virtual Library [ ]
    * Internet Scout Project [ ]
    * BUBL Link [ ]

    The so-called invisible (deep) web is a collection of online
    information stored in live databases accessible on the Web
    but not indexed by traditional search engines. Examples of
    excellent invisible web databases are:

    * ProFusion [ ]
    * [ ]
    * Complete Planet [ ]
    * Resource Discovery Network [ ]
    * direct search (Gary Price) [ ]

    A meta search engine (also known as metacrawler or
    multithreaded engine) is a search tool that sends your query
    simultaneously to several search engines, web directories
    and sometimes to the so-called invisible (deep) web. After
    collecting the results, the meta search engine removes the
    duplicate links and - according to its algorithm - will
    combine and rank the results into a single merged list.

    Because most of the meta search engines take only the top 10
    or 20 from each search engine, you can expect excellent
    results, "la crème de la crème."

    But be aware that because some search engines and web
    directories do not support advanced searching techniques -
    such as quotation marks to enclose phrases or Boolean
    operators - no results from those search engines will appear
    in the meta search engines' results list when those
    techniques are used.

    Remember, meta search engines do not maintain their own
    databases and therefore cannot accept web site submissions.

    The best meta search engines are:

    * ez2Find [ ]
    * Vivisimo [ ]
    * InfoGrid [ ]
    * Infonetware [ ]
    * iBoogie [ ]

    A special kind of meta search engine is the search utility
    (also called desktop search programs or client-side search
    software). Unlike the web-based meta search engines listed
    above, search utilities are software programs that you
    download to your computer. The most popular are:

    * Copernic [ ]
    * Arrow Search [ ]
    * SearchRocket [ ]
    * WebFerret [ ]
    * ProtoSearch [ ]

    Meta search engines are excellent tools, but they do not
    eliminate the need for search engines.

    For more about meta search engines, see my article: The Meta
    Search Engines: A Web Searcher's Best Friends.

    Which Search Tool Should You Choose?

    * If you're looking for specific information use search

    * If you're looking for a unique or obscure search term or if
    you want to make an in-depth analysis of what's out there
    on a specific subject, then use meta search engines.

    * If you're looking for general information on popular
    topics, use subject (web) directories.

    * If you're looking for scholarly information use virtual

    * If you're looking for real-time information or for
    dynamically changing content such as the latest news, phone
    book listings, available airline flights, etc., then use
    specialized databases (invisible or deep web.)

    There are thousands of search engines, hundreds of meta
    search engines and dozens of web directories and specialized
    databases. Choosing the right search tool - from the start -
    can make the difference between a successful search and a
    frustrating experience.

    Before Starting the Search

    The easiest way to find information is when you know a web
    page Internet address or URL (Uniform Resource Locator) such
    as Fortune Magazine at You can find
    these addresses on business cards, TV commercials or
    newspapers. Simply type the URL in the browser's address
    box and hit the enter (PC) or return (Mac) key.

    Be aware that in most browsers, you do not have to type
    "http://" or even "www" before the domain name. You can
    access a site simply typing the domain name such as

    Special note: Be careful when you copy and paste a long URL
    from an email message or from some web sites. URLs that span
    two lines have a gap (space) between the last character of
    the first line and the first character on the second line.
    First, get rid of the gap and then paste it in the
    browser's address line.

    Other times you may not know the URL but... you can guess
    it. Often companies will use their name, acronym or
    abbreviated name followed by ".com", such as or The same thing is true for educational
    institutions (add the ".edu" suffix) or government sites
    (add ".gov") So, whenever you don't know an URL, you can
    try to guess it.

    If you do not know the URL, you'll have to find it by
    searching the Internet. In many cases, a simple search on
    the name of an organization within most search engines will
    return a direct hit on their web site.

    Tips For Searching Smarter:

    * Read the search engine's "search tips" or "help" page
    before using a search tool. Strangely enough, most of the
    time you'll find the "search tips" link on the "Advanced
    Search" page or on the "results page." Anyway, regularly
    check the search tips page because the rules often change.

    * Customize the output of the results. Use the search
    engine's "preferences" page. Some search tools allow you
    to select the value for:
    * the total results per page; usually 10 by default (select
    * the maximum - often 100)
    * the search tool's timeout - select the maximum
    * the search depth - select maximum.
    Be sure to save the new "settings" or "search
    preferences" for the next time you use the search tools.
    Also, set the browser you use to accept cookies.

    Tips To Make Your Search Faster:

    If you're searching for information and you are not
    interested in graphics on the pages you see, turn off or
    disable graphics. You can also turn off sounds, animation,
    Java, JavaScript, etc. See your browser documentation for

    If you decide to keep the graphics, in the case of a
    "heavy" page, you can always press the STOP button in
    the browser, immediately after you see the text and before
    the graphics are entirely loaded.

    More Tips:

    * Most search tools are case-insensitive which means that you
    can construct a query - your search request - by typing all
    the words - even proper names - in lower case text.

    * If you type a long query, most of the search tools' search
    boxes are not very wide so you cannot see the entire query.
    Write the query in a word processor and then "copy and
    paste" into the search box. Be aware that Google™ only
    allows 10 words in the search box.

    * Some search tools offer an option called "similar pages"
    (Google™) or "related pages" (AltaVista and Teoma.)
    Clicking on that option will show you relevant results for
    the page you're interested in.

    * Some search engines have a function called "see more
    hits/results/pages from the same domain." Sometimes it can
    be useful.

    * Also, some search tools, such as Google™, allow you to see
    an English translation for a results page that is written in
    a foreign language. If you want to translate a web page and
    you have the URL, you can also use these sites:

    * Systran [ ]
    * Fagan Finder [ ]
    * AltaVista' Babel Fish [ ]
    * alphaWorks (IBM) [ ]

    Remember, don't expect perfect translations because that
    seldom happens.

    * Looking for pages in a specific language? Some search
    engines (Google™, AlltheWeb, etc.) have an advanced search
    page that allows you to select the language from the
    pull-down menu.

    * If your search terms contain letters not present in the
    English alphabet such as "é" or "ü" (example fiancé or
    München), use Fagan Finder's (Search Engine Ultimate
    Interface) which allows you to use these special letters in
    many major search engines. It makes a big difference. A
    search for Munchen in Google™ gives 570,000 results while
    for München - "u" with umlaut - gives 51,700,000 - almost
    10 times more.

    So, let's start searching!

    Most of the search tools can be searched using keywords. Web
    directories and the invisible web databases can also be
    searched by browsing categories and subcategories.

    Start with a popular search engine such as Google™, for

    Before typing the keywords, take your time and brainstorm
    relevant words. Create a list of search terms. Write them
    down. A few seconds of brainstorming could save you minutes
    or hours of retrieving irrelevant results.

    Advice for Searching Better:

    * Select the most descriptive words. Brainstorm thoroughly.

    * Use at least two keywords.

    * Place the most important words or phrases first.
    Whenever two or more words can appear in exact order,
    enclose the words with double quotation marks ("word 1 word
    2".) Example: "United States." If you use a longer
    phrase, you will achieve more precise results. With a very
    long phrase, however, you may get zero results. Some search
    engines allow you to select the "phrase" option in the
    pull-down menu on their advanced search page or you can type
    it in special phrase search box, so you don't have to use

    * When possible, use unique, rare or unusual keywords. The
    more uncommon / obscure or less frequent the keywords you
    use are, the fewer and more relevant results you will get.

    * Use nouns and objects as keywords. Do not use the so-called
    "stop words" such as "what," "where," "the," "in,"
    "and," etc. Many search tools ignore them. If you need a
    stop word to appear in the results, place the implied
    Boolean operator "+ " in front of that word. The standard
    Boolean operators AND, OR, NOT (or AND NOT), NEAR, BEFORE,
    AFTER and the Boolean logic "(parenthesis)", are used to
    construct complicated queries. The implied Boolean operators
    "+" and "-" can replace the AND and NOT respectively. An
    example of Boolean logic is (tips OR tricks) AND ("search
    engines" OR "web directories"). It will find tips or
    tricks for search engines or web directories. Check the
    search tool's tips to see if they accept Boolean operators.
    For example Google™ does not support full Boolean logic.

    * Do not use common terms such as Internet, Web, etc. except
    for cases that it is necessary. (For example, the query is
    "searching the web" with quotes.)

    * Avoid redundant terms and complicated query structures.

    * Choosing the right words for your query is the most
    important part of web searching. The more specific the
    search term, the more relevant your results will be and the
    more likely it is that you will find what you seek.
    Remember, work smarter not harder.

    * The secret to constructing a professional query is to type
    words you expect to find in the matches.

    Note: Some search tools, such as Ask Jeeves allow you to use
    the so-called "natural language." This means that you can
    construct a query as a question in plain English, such as
    "What's the weather in LA?" When you have a specific
    question in mind, these tools can be helpful.

    Checking the Results:

    After typing your keywords into the search box press either
    the "enter" key on the keyboard or, click on the
    "search," "find" or "go" button on the search tool's
    homepage. You will receive a list of documents that -
    hopefully - match your query. If you do not, it may be
    because some unscrupulous webmasters use unethical methods
    to cheat the search engines and achieve undeserved, top
    rankings for their sites. To learn more about this topic,
    please read my article, "Search Engine Spamming Sucks!"

    The results returned, also called "matches" or "hits"
    will be web pages related to the subject you're searching
    for, ranked in order of relevancy according to the search
    tool's algorithm or by date, URL, title, etc.

    Each result will contain information such as the title of
    the page, a short description, the page's URL and the size
    of the page.

    Now you have a tough job. You have to decide which of the
    search results will take you to the most informative site.
    Your best bet is to take a look at the title and description
    of the page. Are they relevant to your search? If yes, open
    the page. If not, check the next result, by scrolling down
    on the right side of the browser.

    To view a page you have two options:

    1) Click on the title of the page - even if says "No title"
    or "?????". Place the cursor on the page title and the
    cursor will change to the picture of a hand. Usually the
    links are in blue and underlined, but often they are not.
    You can find links in any color, including black, which
    makes it difficult to recognize a link in text of the same
    2) The second method is to open the page in a new browser
    window. Right-click over the title of the result. This
    produces a pop-up menu. Select "open (link) in new
    window." After checking the result, close the new browser
    window. You will still have the first window browser with
    your search. Some search tools have an option that allows
    you to open the result in a new window. Don't get used to
    that, do the right thing: open a new browser window by using
    the mouse's right-click.

    If you use the first method most likely you will not use the
    back button to go back to the results page, but instead you
    will simply close the window, losing the search page

    Criteria for Evaluating a Web Resource:

    First of all, don't believe everything you read on the
    Internet. Recently I found a page where it stated that
    Google™ has about one billion web pages indexed. Well,
    according to Google™, it indexes 3,307,998,701 web pages. Be
    careful what you believe. Governmental agencies, educational
    institutions, libraries and prestigious publications are the
    most reliable sources of information. Be circumspect with
    information found on personal sites stored in free hosts.

    Six Tips For Evaluating A Site:

    1) Is the web site published by an authoritative source?
    Is the author a recognized expert in the field or subject

    2) Is the information relevant, credible and accurate? It
    doesn't hurt to cross check two to three additional,
    reliable sources.

    3) Is the site current and recently updated?

    4) Does the site have a professional "look and feel":
    structure, layout, color scheme, navigation menu(s), etc.?

    5) Are there spelling, grammar or punctuation errors?

    6) Does the site have contact information such as a postal
    address, phone or email?

    Four Additional Tips:

    1) Don't look only at the top ten listings. Excellent results
    can be found on the top 20, or even top 50 results. This is
    why customizing the result output at 100 results per page is
    handy. You don't have to open a next ten-results-per-page
    page. If you don't find relevant results in the first 20 to
    50, reformulate your query or try another search tool - a
    meta search engine, for example.

    2) Check only results that truly looks relevant.

    3) Be aware that many search tools list "sponsored links" at
    the top of their results page. These are not results from
    the search tool's database. Instead these results are paid
    listings from corporations that have an interest in
    providing you with information about their products or
    services. Studies show that searchers find it hard to
    distinguish between regular and paid results, so be aware
    that these exist.

    4) To quickly discover if a result is relevant, use the "Find
    (on This Page)" command of the browser (in the Edit menu)
    or simultaneously press CTRL and F keys then type one of
    your important words and press "Find next". You will find
    the location of that word, and you can see if the page is
    really relevant or not.

    What To Do When You Get TOO MANY Results:

    It's common to receive millions of results, often unrelated
    to the search. To receive more relevant results you'll have
    to refine or even rethink the search. Here are some ideas to
    help you refine your search:

    * Add one or more descriptive words to your query.

    * Use phrases. Enclose two or more words that can appear in
    exact order within double quotation marks.

    * Exclude words you don't want in the results by using the
    implied Boolean operator "-". Example: the query "red
    apples" -"yellow apples" will find pages that contain
    "red apples" - in that order - and will not include pages
    that contain "yellow apples. " As you see, there is no
    space between the "-" sign and the word or phrase you want
    to exclude. There is, however, a space between the "-"
    sign and the previous word.

    * Use the search tool's "advanced search" functions. Limit
    your search by language, date or by field searching: title,
    URL, link etc. See the search tool's "search tips" for

    What To Do When You Get Too Few Or Irrelevant Results:

    Sometimes you will get messages like "Your search did not
    match any documents" or "No pages were found containing
    your query" or "No results." Other times you may get few
    or irrelevant results.

    What You Should Do:

    * Check the spelling of the query. Some search engines
    automatically detect misspelled words and will show the
    correct spelling. Just click on the suggested word or words.

    * Delete the least important word from the query.

    * If you used a search phrases try eliminating the double

    * Use more general terms, alternate spellings, plural forms or
    synonyms. Recently, "Google™ introduced a new advanced
    search feature that allows you to not only search for a
    particular keyword but also for its synonyms. Just place the
    "~" (tilde) diacritical mark directly in front of the
    keyword in your search query. For example, "browser ~help"
    not only searches for "browser help", but also for
    "browser support", "browser tips" and "browser

    * You can also check the spelling of the Web page's URL if
    you typed it directly into the address field of the browser.

    * If all the above strategies fail, switch to another search
    tool, preferably a meta search engine such as ez2Find
    (formerly ez2www.)

    Remember: if you're doing a serious research, consider
    asking a professional Web searcher to do the job. In a few
    hours, he may find information that would have taken you
    days to find.

    If you receive the message "The page cannot be displayed"
    or "Not found" the page has been discontinued.

    What you can do:

    * If a page that doesn't display is not the site's home page
    you can use the following trick. Cut the Web address of the
    page starting on the right-hand side and stopping at every
    forward slash (/). Let's say that the URL of a dead link is
    www.domainname/archive/article_1.html. First delete
    "article_1.html" and click "enter." Hopefully you will
    see the "archive" page and the "article 1." If not, also
    delete "archive" and click "enter." Hopefully you will
    get the home page and there will still be an option

    * When you cannot see a page, use the "cached" function of
    some search engines, such as Google™. Go back to the results
    list and click on the "cached" link near the result. You
    will get a snapshot of the page stored in Google™'s index.
    Keep in mind that Google™ does not cache all the Web pages
    in its index and cached pages are often not up-to-date.
    Wayback Machine can also show you previous versions of a Web
    page. Simply type the URL and than select a date in the
    results list. Keep in mind that there are a limited number
    of URLs indexed in the Wayback Machine's database.
    Be aware that sometimes receiving few results means that
    ONLY a few results matched your query. Switch to a meta
    search engine and I guarantee you will receive better

    Sometimes a search tool simply will not work. Why? Because
    it may be disabled or undergoing changes. Try again later.
    Other times you might receive messages like "503 Server is
    busy" or "Too many users. " Check back later. For U.S.
    residents, early morning and late night are the least busy

    Qualities Of A Good Web Searcher:

    * Patience. You can find what you're looking for in ten
    seconds, ten minutes or never. Keep in mind that searching
    the Web can be a very time consuming operation.

    * Persistence. Don't be scared of millions of results. Don't
    give up too fast. Searching the Web is a process of trial
    and error.

    * Good memory. When conducting extensive research, you'll
    have to remember all your previous search queries so you
    know what terms you have already tried. Write them down -
    it's easier.

    * Good organizational skills. Plan your strategy ahead of time
    and stick with the plan.

    * Creativity. Select the best words for your query.

    * Decisiveness. Learn to quickly recognize relevant results in
    the search engine's result page. Don't waste your time
    with search tools or strategies that don't work.

    * Learn and accept the Web's limitations. Sometimes you
    cannot find the information because there is no information
    available on the Web related to your search. But this
    happens very rarely. Most of the time, the problem is not a
    lack of information but rather being overwhelmed by relevant
    results. That is if you know where and how to search.

    And yes, practice, practice, practice. The more you search,
    the more you'll know and soon you will be scoring the most
    relevant results in the timeliest manner.

    A final piece of advice: use bookmarks or favorites.

    When visiting a page that you think you might want to visit
    again, it's wise to save its web address (URL) in your
    "bookmarks" or "favorites" folder in your browser or -
    much better - in a Web-based bookmarks manager - such as - which allows you to access your bookmarks
    from any computer at any location.
    (I have NO connection with

    The next time you want to visit that page, you simply open
    the saved bookmark instead of searching again or typing the
    page's URL.

    Be aware that in time you can collect thousands of
    bookmarks. Be smart and organize them in thoughtfully
    labeled categories and subcategories.

    Last but not least, back-up your bookmarks just like all the
    other important information you back-up from your computer.

    Rest assured that finding information on the Web is never a
    question of luck. Instead it is the result of a thorough
    understanding of how search tools work, combined with
    mastering the art of creating a targeted search query.
    Searching the Web is not difficult. Like any task, you
    simply must press the right buttons.

    Good luck with your searches!

    Note: Google™ is a trademark of Google Inc.

    Do you have searching tips not listed above? Please send
    them to . Thank you.

    Daniel Bazac is the Search Engine Marketer for
    Web Design in New York [ ],
    a site design, search engine optimization and promotion company.
    He also maintains Bazac Weblog [ ]
    a blog about the search engines and search engine marketing news and
    articles. He can be reached at .
    DISCLAIMER: The content provided in this article is not warranted or guaranteed by Developer Shed, Inc. The content provided is intended for entertainment and/or educational purposes in order to introduce to the reader key ideas, concepts, and/or product reviews. As such it is incumbent upon the reader to employ real-world tactics for security and implementation of best practices. We are not liable for any negative consequences that may result from implementing any information covered in our articles or tutorials. If this is a hardware review, it is not recommended to open and/or modify your hardware.

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