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Learn with iiNet: Searching Smarter

Search capability and engines are the underwear of using the Internet. You can try without it, but it’s a lot more uncomfortable and not nearly as practical.

However, a lot of people don’t realise the variation in types of search engines available or some common tips and hints to create more effective searches. At our recent Learn With iiNet session on “Searching Smarter”, we covered some basic hints and tips on getting the most from modern Internet search engines.

The three main competing engines most Australians use are Google, Bing and Yahoo, although this is kind of deceptive, as Google alone takes out 95% of Australian searches, with Bing taking 4% and Yahoo grabbing 1% of searches.

While these are a general usage type of search engine, there are a lot of specialised engines that people might find useful as well. From image search engines to news search engines, search engines that only follow scientific journals or perform computational queries to search engines that show e-shopping results locally or around the globe, if you have a particular task, be aware that there might be a search engine better suited to your needs.

You can find many specialised searches by using the tabs across the top of your favourite search engines, like Google Images or Bing News.

Here are our tips and tricks for smarter searching:

1) Using keywords

Use a few relevant keywords in your search, rather than a whole sentence or question for best effect as each word is often considered important to the search. For example, search “actor Luke Skywalker” over “who played Luke Skywalker in the original star wars trilogy”.

It’s also good to consider the kind of words that might appear in a relevant article. Something like “headache” might produce more relevant results over “pain in head” when looking for medical information on headaches.

2) Running searches for exact keywords and phrases

Search engines often search for modified versions of a word or even synonyms, so searches containing the word “test” might show some results for “tests” or possibly even “exam”.

To avoid that, you can put quotation marks around the word in the search so it looks for that word as it is. By default, search engines usually look for the keywords in any particular order as long as they all appear on the page. You can search for exact phrases/quotes by putting the phrase in quotation marks. This is very handy for looking up lyrics or quotes for attribution.

3) Refining your results

Some search engines also allow a few operators to help refine searches even further. Many allow you to put a dash at the front of the word to exclude it for any searches. If you want to find results about Mount Franklin and you don’t mean the bottled water company, try “Mount Franklin -water”.

4) Or mix up your results with a wildcard search

Often you can use an asterisk (*) for a wildcard search on missing terms like “department of *” or if you want to check for results that contain some possible terms you can use “OR” like in “ford fiesta 2002 OR 2003”.

If you’re using a major search engine, you can also search for keywords within a specific site like so “adsl site:iinet.net.au”.

If you’re on Google, there’s a few other handy searching tips and tricks you can use. You can find the definition of a word by prefacing it with “define:” or perform conversions between common units using searches like “1 mile in km”. You can even do currency exchange rates like “1 us dollar to australian dollar”.

5) Private searching

You can stop search engines, websites and other services tracking what you do by jumping into the “Private Browsing” mode provided by a lot of modern web browsers. This is also incredibly useful if you’re looking at ideas for secret birthday presents or checking your email on a shared computer.

6) Spot the ads from the results

Given how much content search engines index from around the web and how fast they provide results, it begs the questions of how they make money. The answer to that is simply: advertising. Whenever you search, you’ll often see a few results on a different background with the word “ads” or “sponsored results” in close proximity. Companies pay to get preferential results and because they want a good amount of traffic for their money, they want to make sure a search engine is targeting the right people and to do that, the search engine needs your information.

For more information on how to get connected and get around online, check out our regular Learn With iiNet workshops.

We’ve also made this handy, printable reference card with our search tips and some information on how to access private browsing mode. Happy searching!

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