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 WhatIs.com 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 MyBookmarks.com)
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
My favorite search engines are:
* Google™ [ http://www.google.com/
* AlltheWeb [ http://www.alltheweb.com/
* MSN [ http://www.msn.com/
* Teoma [ http://www.teoma.com/
* AltaVista [ http://www.altavista.com/
* WiseNut [ http://www.wisenut.com/
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
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 [ http://directory.google.com/
* Open Directory Project (ODP) [ http://www.dmoz.org/
* Yahoo! [ http://www.yahoo.com/
* Zeal [ http://www.zeal.com/
* JoeAnt [ http://www.joeant.com/
* Gimpsy [ http://www.gimpsy.com/
Popular virtual libraries include:
* Librarians' Index to the Internet [ http://www.lii.org/
* Internet Public Library [ http://www.ipl.org/
* The WWW Virtual Library [ http://www.vlib.org/
* Internet Scout Project [ http://www.scout.wisc.edu/Archives/
* BUBL Link [ http://www.bubl.ac.uk/
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 [ http://www.profusion.com/
* Invisible-web.net [ http://www.invisible-web.net/
* Complete Planet [ http://www.completeplanet.com/
* Resource Discovery Network [ http://www.rdn.ac.uk/
* direct search (Gary Price) [ http://www.freepint.com/gary/direct.htm
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 [ http://www.ez2find.com/
* Vivisimo [ http://www.vivisimo.com/
* InfoGrid [ http://www.infogrid.com/
* Infonetware [ http://www.infonetware.com/
* iBoogie [ http://www.iboogie.com/
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 [ http://www.copernic.com/en/index.html
* Arrow Search [ http://www.rt-software.co.uk/arrow_search/
* SearchRocket [ http://www.searchrocket.com/
* WebFerret [ http://www.ferretsoft.com/index.html
* ProtoSearch [ http://www.npccenterprises.com/products.shtml
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
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 http://www.fortune.com.
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 ibm.com or
apple.com. 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,
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.
* 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
* 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 [ http://www.systransoft.com/
* Fagan Finder [ http://www.faganfinder.com/translate/
* AltaVista' Babel Fish [ http://babelfish.altavista.com/
* alphaWorks (IBM) [ http://www.alphaworks.ibm.com/aw.nsf/html/mt
Remember, don't expect perfect translations because that
* 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
* 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,
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
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
* 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 -
* 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
MyBookmarks.com - which allows you to access your bookmarks
from any computer at any location.
(I have NO connection with MyBookmarks.com)
The next time you want to visit that page, you simply open
the saved bookmark instead of searching again or typing the
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 mailto:email@example.com
. Thank you.
Daniel Bazac is the Search Engine Marketer for
Web Design in New York [ http://www.web-design-in-new-york.com
a site design, search engine optimization and promotion company.
He also maintains Bazac Weblog [ http://www.bazac.blogspot.com/
a blog about the search engines and search engine marketing news and
articles. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
| 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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