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Internet Search Tips and Tricks


How to Search Effectively
I wish I had a dollar for every time someone wrote me "I've searched everywhere but I can't find..." Search yes, but search smart, no.

Keep reading to make your searches less exasperating!

Want to get the definition of a word quick?
Type: Define:(the word you want defined) in the Google search box, Example define:plethora
Need a quick math solution?
Type the problem in the search bar, Example: 20% of 68 or sqrt of 144, etc
Conversions? the same principle applies
Example: 28C in F, or 100$ in pound, or yards in mile

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A search engine can't think. It's a software program that sorts a database. The more accurately you give it info on what you want, the more likely it is to return the desired answers.

Let's start with some basics. The most common search error is TYPOS. Misspelled words return mistakes.

Let's talk about Google and the major engines. The use of punctuation can narrow your search directly to what you seek. It's called a "boolean" search but you don't need to remember that word.

At the FiftiesWeb I get a lot of requests for song titles. So let's use that as an example.

You want the lyrics, or at least the artist for Blue Moon.

The simple way is to type Blue Moon in the search box and hit Go. But wait, you're getting returns that talk about Sally in her blue dress on a night with a full moon.

Now try that again by placing "Blue Moon" inside quotation marks. What does that do? It forces the search engine to find results where the word blue is next to the word moon. The search looks for the phrase exactly as it appears between the quotation marks.

We're getting better results now but not perfect yet. We've still got the Blue Moon Cafe, Blue Moon Diner. Let's see if we can narrow our results a bit.

"Blue Moon" +lyrics
Aha! Now we have told the search engine we want a webpage with the phrase "Blue Moon" plus the word lyrics. Note the space between "Blue Moon" and +lyrics. You need that space.

A lyrics site may well have the artist as well. So why didn't we search for "Blue Moon" +artist? You gotta be a bit clever here. All a search does is read words on a webpage. So what extra word is the page likely to have? A lyrics site will probably have the word "lyrics" somewhere. Likely the artist is just named. One a page that states:
Blue Moon, Marcels, 1960
searching with the word "artist" won't find that page because the word "artist" isn't on the page. A search engine doesn't know that the word Marcels represents the artist name. It just reads words.

For the same reason, using the word "year" won't find what you need because few pages would express it as "year - 1960."

Always remember search is literal. Not intuitive. A search doesn't know that you meant this thing or that. It catalogs WORDS, not ideas.

Let's get even fancier. Not only can you use the + sign but the - as well. The - sign tells the search you don't want that word on the pages it returns.

"Blue Moon" -cafe -diner

That search eliminates those returns we got earlier for restaurants.

If your first stab at a search returns everything BUT what you want, take a look at what you're getting. Maybe using a minus or plus sign can help focus your search.

You can combine these symbols any way you need. Want another example?

You want to know something about the song "Mona Lisa." The biggest problem is that same named painting will fill the results. Your first thought may be okay, I'll do +song. But let us consider that. Is it the best choice? Depends on what you are looking for of course, but remember, the word "song" must appear on the page. The search engine cannot differentiate between the painting and the song, it can only sort for the words on the webpage. Here are some possible choices which will also allow you to view some new combinations.

"Mona Lisa" +lyrics -Louvre
"Mona Lisa" +"Nat King Cole"
"Mona Lisa" -"da Vinci" +1950
"men have named you" +lyrics

Experiment a bit the next time you need to search for something and I promise, you won't be sorry.
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Copyright 2010. Michael Rich. All rights reserved.