How-to: Search the Web More Effectively

Magnifying Glass by Julo, Wikimedia CommonsThe Internet is filling up. I don’t mean that it’s running out of space, there’s an infinite number of data bits we can create and store on it. I mean its getting crowded. This is good; as a fount of much human knowledge, more power to it. What’s not so easy any more is finding what you want.

It’s now almost impossible to Google-whack anything (put two words into a search and get one unique result returned). Even the most specialised searches will return a pageful of results. It’s no longer a clean arena in which to innocently search the web. Results used to be led by God, sex and Start Trek. Now it’s sex and commerce, helped by a lot of scamming and cheating, with God and Star Trek barely getting in the top pages. What you need is to search more effectively…

The rule always used to be “keep the search terms broad to start with and then narrow it down if your subject isn’t popular.” That was fine for Web 1.0. Now, I’d propose just the opposite. With broad searches returning results in the millions, I propose making your search as specific as you can at the outset and widening from a small number of results. You always have the Back button to revert to narrower searches.

More specific words the better.
Better to find too few results than too many. What good is a results set of 1,255,687 if the one you actually want is in page 400?

Dubai rapid transit (421,000 results)
is better than Dubai transit (over 12.8m results)

Be literal, quote marks mean ‘search for this exact string’, so include in quotes:
“Dubai transit” (31,300 results)
By using double quotes, you’re implying that you want search results that contain that exact phrasing, with no changes to the order of the words.
“Dubai rapid transit” (4370 results)

You can use the minus sign to exclude superfluous material
“Dubai transit” pod -photo (1800 results)
The Minus sign will omit results containing the string youtube. So long as there’s a space in front of the minus and no space behind.

No spaces around the minus transalates it as a hyphen, so blue-ray produces results with blue-ray as an expression, blue -ray returns ‘blue’ in results excluding ‘ray’; blue- ray will ignore the – altogether.

Qualify parts of the search not in quotes:
“Dubai transit” pod size (217 results)

better yet, try double-quoting several parts of your query:
“Dubai rapid transit” “photo” (9 results)
will return both strings.

Wild Cards
You could try Dubai* to get anything following Duabi. Remember wildcards open up the search, they don’t narrow it. Use them sparingly unless your core search terms are very rare.

Logical Operators
You could use logic, for example

“Dubai” transit OR pod to catch results with either qualifier.

Intitle:Dubai metro (76,000m results) – By putting In Title before a search terms you’re telling Google to only return pages with the query enclosed in the page title.

Site:wikipedia “Dubai transit” (52,000 results)
the site prefix returns search results only from the specified website. This is useful for searching large sites with nested content.

Image: Magnifying Glass,  public domain by Julo.

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