For most of us, search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Ask provide a vital point of access to the Internet, responding to our simple request with a list of Web sites most likely to have the information we need. On the whole, search engines do a remarkable job of selecting the most appropriate sites from among the billions on the Internet, but every searcher occasionally hits a virtual dead end.
There are techniques—and specialized search engines—that can make your searching more effective:
- Use operators to narrow your search. Put quotation marks around a string of words to search for exact instances of that phrase. This is particularly useful when searching for specific books or movies, lyrics, or people. Placing a minus sign before a word will exclude it from your search results. This approach is helpful when searching on words—like "chip" or "cell"—that have meanings in a number of fields.
- Try the other major search engines. Each search engine uses its own proprietary method to canvass the Internet—and the results they offer for the same search are often very different. A recent study of 19,000 separate search queries found that only 1 percent of results appeared on the front page of all four major search engines: Google, Yahoo, Microsoft Live, and Ask. In other words, if you can't find what you're looking for on Google, try Yahoo.
- Take part in a social search system. Web sites like ma.gnolia or del.icio.us operate on the same principle as YouTube. Each member submits websites that they have found valuable, giving them tags or labels that describe them. As a member of the social search community, you can click on a tag of interest to you to produce a list of related sites that other members have considered worth saving.
- Turn to a specialized search directory. There are hundreds of specialized search directories for particular uses. If you are looking for videos, images, or maps, the major search engines have subdirectories that you can use. Other directories include those for federal legislation, radio stations, and movies.
Find out if there's a specialized search directory in your field.