We all (or, well, most of us) love Google but it may not be the best search tool for everything. While the following information will concentrate heavily on Google, we'll also be looking at other search engines and options that might suit you better for certain tasks. If you're not getting the results you want from Google, in some cases another search engine may be the best fix.
Creating An Effective Search Query
As much as Google (and other search engines) may try, they don't speak English or any other human language. If you ask a search engine a specific question, it's probably not going to yield the best results. Fortunately, there are some tricks you can learn to form a really good Google query and end up with more relevant results.
Don't Use Words You Don't Need
Don't search for full sentences or ask full questions. Search for the keywords in what you're looking for. Google will just ignore certain words it knows are common and irrelevant, but this may not be the case with all search engines; either way, you'll save yourself some typing time. Just leave out anything you don't need. For example "dimensions and weight of the 2010 macbook air" works just fine, as does "dimensions weight 2010 macbook air".
Use the AROUND() Operator
By default, Google searches for your search terms everywhere in the page and they don't necessarily have to be near each other. This is annoying when you're searching for something <like idol white> and you end up with an article about Billy Idol that later mentions his song White Wedding (it happens all the time, right?). Of course you can put "white teeth" in quotations and make sure that phrase shows up in the article, but then you're restricted to that ordering of the words. Think of all the teeth whitening articles you'll miss because of the arrangement of the words. That's where the AROUND() operator comes in. It'll let you search for things like teeth AROUND(2) white to make sure both words are near each other but not necessarily next to each other or in a specific order. The number you give to AROUND specifies the proximity. A lower number means the words need to be closer together and a higher number means they can be farther apart.
Eliminate Terms You Don't Want And Force Terms You Do
Want to eliminate something from your results? Use a hyphen in front of any terms you don't want to show up. For example, defrost pipes -ehow will remove any eHow results from your search query. If you want to make sure a word appears in every result, just put a plus sign in front of it. (Thanks for the tip, simcdee!)
You can search for different options by using the OR operator. For example, if you wanted a blue or black hat, you could search for hat (black OR blue). This search query will ensure you end up getting results about hats, but allow those results to vary between hats of the black or blue variety. (Thanks for the tip, wjglenn!)
Search Titles Only
Do you only need to search for page titles and ignore the actual text on the page? In Google you can do this by prepending your query with allintitle:. When searching on Bing or Yahoo!, you can do the same thing simple by using title:.
Search For A File
Maybe you're not looking for a web page at all, but instead a specific kind of file. You can easily restrict your search to a file type by typing filetype:extension in front of your search terms. For example, if you were searching for a PowerPoint file you'd use filetype:ppt.
Conduct Site-Specific Searches
Sometimes you're looking for an article you know you saw on, say, Lifehacker, but you can't remember what it's called. Maybe said site has, uh, a less-than-perfect search mechanism and you turn to your favourite search engine to help you find it. Adding site: in front of the site's URL (e.g. site:lifehacker.com.au) will force Google, Bing and Yahoo! to return only search results from that specific domain. For example, if you know you were looking for an article about manipulation and you know you saw it onLlifehacker, you could search for site:lifehacker.com.au manipulate and you'll find some relevant, Lifehacker-specific results.
The more specific you can be with your query, the fewer results you'll have to sift through. Assuming the queries you give to Google, or any search engine, are accurate to what you want this should work in your favour and help you find what you're looking for more easily.
Getting Quick, Specific Answers
Most search engines will try to provide you with answers when you ask it specific questions or provide it with data it can detect based on a given format. Ask Google or Bing "what time is it in Los Angeles?" and you'll be provided with LA's local time. If you simply ask Google "what time is it?" and your IP address is providing an approximate (but accurate enough) location, you'll get your local time. This is just one of many types of data you can enter into Google to get answers without the need to track down a special tool in your search results. For more Google options, check out our top 10 obscure Google search tricks.
While both Bing and Google can offer lots of quick results, Duck Duck Go is a search engine designed to give you quick answers without the need to even look at your search results. Here are a few examples:
- Using age can give you the age of someone prominent. For example, searching for "age of Obama" will provide you with Barack Obama's age.
- Want to know how many calories are in two eggs? Search for calories in 2 eggs. In fact, calories in will yield calorie counts for basic foods.
- Want to know how much something weighs? Use weight. For example, weight of an apple.
- Need a random number? Type in rand plus the range. For example, rand 1 100.
- Want to search Wikipedia? Just type WIkipedia and your search terms and you'll be given an abstract from Wikipedia in addition to your search results. Here's an example for Lifehacker.
These are just a few examples of searches you can conduct with DuckDuckGo to get quick information without actually visiting another web site. Here are several more. In addition to DuckDuckGo, WolframAlpha (which DuckDuckGo utilizes to get information in certain cases) is an excellent tool for getting quick answers to specific kinds of questions. The downside is that it won't provide you with actual search results as well, but we've discovered some pretty neat things you can ask it.
Turn Frequent, Repetitive Searches Into RSS Feeds
If you search for the same thing often, you can turn that search into an RSS feed and get notified of new results. This will prevent you from combing through results to find new additions or doing a bunch of extra work to find new results that don't turn up so easily. Google lets you turn searches into RSS feeds using Google Alerts. Bing lets you create search result RSS feeds as well by just adding &format=rss to the end of your search's URL.
For more great search strategies, check out some reader favourites. Got a few of your own? Share 'em in the comments.