By samoore (1251644893|%a, %b %e at %I:%M%p)
This document describes several ways in which you might improve your search techniques.
Everyone has experienced that moment where they are sitting around and all of sudden think of a question they do not know the answer to. What is the best type of TV to buy? Who was the longest living Queen of England? How did Ghengis Kahn come to power?
In today's time, the vast majority of people fire up their computer, double click on their favorite web browser, and type in a few words into Google in search of an answer. Some people, depending on the mood, "feel lucky" and take the search out of searching. For those of you who do not know what I am referring to, Google asks if "I'm Feeling Lucky" when making a search - by clicking that button, I am telling Google to just take me to the first search result that would have come up.
Unfortunately, if that vast majority of people felt lucky pretty often, then odds are they would very frequently be disappointed with where Google took them. This is because most people type in simple queries into Google - for example, Ghengis Kahn or Queens of England. If you are searching for general information about a specific topic, you might go to a Wikipedia page about it. However, specific information about any topic requires a much more specific query.
This all begs the question: how can you become more lucky? How do you improve your chances of getting the search result you want when you click the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button. Hopefully I can illustrate for you the need for advanced queries and the techniques to create them. There are two sections to this blog post: 1) Simple Queries versus Phrases and 2) Query Operators. For all of the examples, I am going to focus on the subject of dog breeds and assume that I always click the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button (and never see the actual Google Results page until afterwards).
Simple Queries and Phrases
As I mentioned earlier, simple queries are searches that are just words entered into the search box. It can be a general term like "cats" or a specific word such as "Black Lab Dogs". These are the searches that the majority of people in the world do. Simple queries sometimes work and will almost 100% of the time give you a page somewhat relevant to what you want, but there will be plenty of instances where it's just not enough.
Query: dog breeds | Result: JustDogBreeds.com - This website has some information about dog breeds, but I am really looking for a stronger list of dog breeds with more information about each one such as colors, character traits, pros and cons, etc.
Query: cocker spaniel | Result: [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cocker_spaniel] - Wikipedia is a great source of information, but if I wanted information from Wikipedia, I would go straight to Wikipedia
Query: best dog breed | Result: [http://www.glowdog.com/bestdog/] - This is certainly the worst site I was taken too. There is nothing on this site that even talks about dog breeds - the site is simply talking about dogs and how to make them the best.
The last example is really the most important of the three because it highlights one of the key issues of simple queries - independent word relationships. When I typed in "best dog breed" (without the quotes), Google searches for the most relevant pages related to best, dog, and breed. It picks the most relevant / highest-ranked pages for "best", "dog", "breed", "dog breed", "best dog", "best breed", etc. If you look at the Search Results, you will see that only about half of the first ten results have all three words in either the title or description! Why?
This is because Google, and most search engines, treat words independently unless put together in a phrase. A phrase is a collection of words bounded by quotes (" " or ' '). Phrases are very helpful to ensuring the words you enter are looked at a group. After re-entering the above words in Google as phrases, all three of the top results stayed the same, mostly because they were only two or three words. The search results are pretty different though. Now, for "best dog breed", all the [http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q="best+dog+breed"&btnG=Search Search Results] have those three words in the title. Compare these results:
Query: the best kind of dog breed | Result: Animal Planet: Dog Breed Selector
Query: "the best kind of dog breed" | Result: Yahoo Answers: What is the best kind of dog breed?
Notice how the first result had a really popular website that was related to only a few words from the group, whereas the second result was a page 100% specific to what I was searching. Awesome! This is all because of the quotes and we forced Google to find pages that had to have ALL of the words in it. Therefore, there were only three total results (compared to 3,010,000 with the first search).
Query operators give us the real power to ensure we feel super-lucky. We are specifically going to look at query operators that are about different attributes such as the page-title, page-url, and page-domain.
Page Title (intitle:) and Page URL (inurl:)
We can use the intitle: operator to make sure a word or phrase is in the actual title of the page and not just found within it. Note: for all these operators, the word or phrase must come directly after the colon in the operator, no spaces!
Query: cocker spaniel dog reviews | Result: YourPureBredPuppy.com - Cocker Spaniel
This website is just really about cocker spaniels and is more of an overview than a dog review. Although we could put "cocker spaniel dog reviews" as a query, it restricts the search a little too much and in fact this query returns something completely irrelevant. We can use the intitle: operator to feel more lucky.
Query: intitle:"Cocker Spaniel" dog reviews | Result: ReviewCentre.com - Cocker Spaniels
This website is dead-on with what I was looking for! The Page URL modifier serves the exact same purpose in that it searches for within the URL and not the page title.
Site Domain (site:)
The final, and perhaps the most important, operator relates to the Site Domain. Generally, website domain names that end in .gov, .org, or .edu have the most reliable results. When searching for information you want to make sure is as correct as possible, use the site: operator to ensure only those sites are returned to you. Keep in mind that, unfortunately, Wikipedia.org is still a result option with .org but is not always accurate. Here is a great example though:
Query: number of pets in america | Result: $40 Billion Spent on Pets
This is certainly a number and is certainly about pets…but it's not what I am looking for. If add site:gov lets see what happens.
Query: site:gov number of pets in america | Result: Census.gov - Pet Ownership
Once again, this is exactly what I wanted. However, the US Census is typically a common place for statistics so I decided to try to get a similar result without using the site: modifier. It did not go so well.
Query: us census number of pets in america | Result: $40 Billion Spent on Pets
I got the same result as I did without the us census in the query! Interesting discovery.
In closing, I hope that after reading this it is clear that just typing in words and hitting enter will not always provide you with the result you want. You may get it eventually after trying out a few different word combinations, but why waste time when there are ways to improve the accuracy of Google's results? In the interest of space, I did not go too in-depth on all the different modifiers and operators for queries. If you want more information, please visit: Search Techniques and Strategies