Effective use of search engines or: How I became the family tech support guy

You might be surprised how many questions already have answers, simply floating in the internether. As a person who's grown up alongside the world wide web, I've come to rely on internet queries to quickly answer a question or offer instruction. The key to finding this information is to be able to effectively use search engines to navigate the web. For this post, I'll be talking about methods I use for a Google search. If you're using a different engine, your search results may vary. I will also be using square brackets and italics to denote example queries, such as this [ query ] for the word query.

Phrase searching

When you search for a phrase, such as [ which seat should I take ], you may notice that you get a variety of results with the words in any order. While in many cases this is fine, it can also be very helpful to use double quotes in your search to contain a specific phrase. The results will contain the keywords in the exact order. This can be used to find a reference, song lyrics, and is especially useful for finding information on an error message. The query [ "which seat should I take" ]  will give you more specific results.

Site filtering

You can direct your search to look only in a specific website or type of websites by using the site: modifier. Perhaps you got several results for [ throwing a baseball ], but the most relevant of these came from the website pitchers.com. You could specify that Google search only within that website by using [ site:pitchers.com throwing a baseball ]. This will often return more results from that website than you would have seen otherwise, and I've found this especially useful for searching forums and various answers websites.

Term exclusion

The minus sign allows you to filter a search so that results will not include a specific word or phrase. Say you're trying to find information on your old high school buddy [ Peter Parker ], but you're swamped with confusing superhero results. You could search for [ Peter Parker -Spiderman ] to find only pages that do not contain Spiderman.

Capitalization and special characters

Searches will generally ignore capitalization, and most special characters (excluding those with specific purposes for search modification). Searches for [ abe lincoln ] and [ Abe Lincoln ] will return identical results. In the same way, characters such as @#$%^&*()=+[]\ will be ignored. This should help you reduce your worries about formatting when searching.

I hope these tips will help you be able to get the most out of your time searching the web. Keep in mind that this barely scratches the surface of what modern search engines can do, and if you'd like more information on using Google effectively you can read up on it here.

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