In the hunt for a bike for my daughter the typing of “kids bikes” in Google returned just shy of 78 million results in less than one second! After years in research I still find it extraordinary the number of sources of information that are returned when performing any internet search (“kids bike bells” a meagre 1.5 million returns in 0.76).

It’s in stark contrast to ‘back in the day’ visits to Nottingham Central Library hunting for material using the Library’s sole computer terminal and catalogue cards, interspersed with some general wandering round the aisles whilst trying to navigate the decimal system in the hope of finding something to make the journey worthwhile.

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Internet searching is an important part of researching and sourcing relevant information. Today most of the information we need is just a few key strokes away, however this brings a different problem: there is just too much information to process and therefore we compensate by only going just a few pages in. Various sources suggest that most internet searchers do not look beyond the first page of results. But on some occasions, such as when applying the emergency search term “wedding anniversary present idea” I have delved to the depths of page five and beyond! Our time is precious, so how can we get smarter at this?

To help us, there are a number of features and tools at our disposal to help wade through the sheer volume of information. My default search engine is Google Chrome, but many of these tips work across other search engines such as Internet Explorer and Firefox. Here we go:

  • Use specific key words and minimise the number of search terms per query: try to be precise (in the example above ‘kids bikes’ is a bit too general); avoid redundant terms and be careful with the spelling.
  • Use quotation marks for exact phrases – to help manage your search add quotation marks around a phrase. This will return results in the order you typed them in.
  • Do an advanced search: Click the ‘Search Tools’ button to refine your search by date, country, amount, language, or other criteria.
  • Get improved time-based search results. You can be more specific than the advance search filter mentioned above allows. For example, if you want returns from the last 15 minutes you can hack the weblink. Just add &tbs=qdr:to the end, along with the time you want to search (which can include h5 for 5 hours, n5 for 5 minutes, or s5 for 5 seconds (substituting any number you want). So, to search within the past 20 minutes, you’d add &tbs=qdr:n20 to your weblink after your initial return. Good for the most up-to-the-minute news.
  • Use Google to perform a search within a site. I sometimes find the search tools on websites are not that effective. Google seems to do a better job. So if you know what website you want to look at you can perform a search via Google. If you want to find that old Victoria sponge recipe that you used from the BBC website, type into Google ‘site:bbc.co.uk victoria sponge’
  • Use the minus operator (-) to declutter a search. Search terms can have different connotations e.g. Lotus will return websites relating to cars, flowers, software and more. By adding a minus sign in front of car (e.g. lotus -car) you are asking the search engine to remove links associated with cars.
  • Use the OR operator (OR) or (|) this will return results with either of the search terms.
  • Apply a numeric range to a search:You can refine searches that use numeric terms by returning a specific range, but you must supply the unit of measurement. ‘Kids bikes £100-£200’ for example.
  • Apply key words when looking for data: For lists of resources, enter directory of in front of your search term. E.g. ‘directory of homelessness statistics’, or add the word databases after your search term
  • Avoid common words, punctuation and capitals. Common words (‘a’ ‘the’) are typically ignored when searching along with punctuation. Search engines will also tend not to distinguish between uppercase and lowercase, even within quotation marks.

There’s a lot more that Search engines can do and I’ve listed some sites below to look at but in summary search engines will do their best to bump to the top the most relevant sites it finds. Entering terms that are too broad will take longer to navigate and the results may not be helpful.

Whether it’s for work or for personal application I hope these nuggets of information will help make your searches faster and more effective.

Other resources:

https://www.google.com/advanced_search

https://support.google.com/websearch/answer/2466433

http://www.pcmag.com/slideshow/story/327063/18-hidden-firefox-functions-for-browsing-like-a-boss/1

http://www.bbcactive.com/BBCActiveIdeasandResources/InternetSearchSkills.aspx

Peter Howe
Senior Research Executive
0116 229 3300 | Peter.Howe@cfe.org.uk

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