Some Google Fu – Getting searches to work for you.


[image from macten]

Knowing how to find things is a good skill to have in this information based society.  Knowing how to find things fast is even better.  There is a world of information at our fingertips but knowing how to access it quickly is a valuable skill.  Why?  Because there’s so MUCH information that you can easily waste hours of time looking for something.

Occasionally, not always, but every now and then someone will email me or ask me a question that they’ve been trying to find the answer to and I’ll flip open my laptop, fire off a few keywords to Google and come back with the answer.  Nifty.  But what BLOWS ME AWAY is how often I’ll get, “WOW, that was fast!” Ummm…yeah, how slow were you expecting it to be?  Which makes me wonder, does this person know how fast finding out stuff can be? Or are they still stuck in analog?

So I decided I’d write a quick article with a list of a few tips I’ve picked up a long the way for using our favorite neighborhood information finder to get what you’re looking for without wasting a lot of time.

1. Try the dump first, then refine.

Whenever I’m looking for something I always put as many words to describe it in the search box as possible.  Why?  Because I don’t have time to read through billions of pages!  Always remember that the more keywords you enter in that search box, the fewer results you’ll get – and the more likely the result you are looking for will show up.

Now, sometimes I’ll have too many words in my initial query and I’ll get too few results returned.  That’s okay, then it’s time to start refining by removing the less important words from my initial dump.  Keep doing this until you find what you need.

Nine times out of ten I’ll find what I’m looking for using this simple method.  Far too often, people start with fewer words and then work up to more.  Don’t do it.  Finding results that way will nearly always take longer than doing it the other way around.  Dump, then refine.

2. “Quotes” are your friend.

Whenever you put quotes around a phrase in the search box you are telling Google to only look for results with that exact phrase.  This is an incredible time saver when you are looking for quotes from a particular author or information on a specific item.  Google has gotten smarter at figuring out phrases from word dumps but I find that putting those phrases in quotes nearly always speeds up your finding the results you need in your search session.

3. Get to know the special sauce

One of the ways of refining search is by using various search operators (the “special sauce”).  To be honest I use these rarely because Google’s search engine is so good at finding what I want.  But on the times that I do use the special sauce its just another way narrowing down the results.  Wanna know what the special sauce is?  Check out the Google Cheat Sheet and the “Advanced Operators Reference

4. Dress appropriately when needed

I’m still surprised that some people don’t know the unique things you can do with the Google search bar that, although isn’t readily apparent, is a great way of getting specialized information.  Depending on how you “dress up” your query you can discover everything from the current weather in a city to answering math problems, getting sports scores, doing unit conversion, and all sorts of stuff.  And the best thing?  What you need will be right there with the results list, you won’t have to click through to another site.  For more on how to dress up, see “Explore Google Search

5. Put up a “do not cross” sign.

Oh and this is such an important thing to remember. Set a limit on how many pages of results you’ll check.  As a rule of thumb, for hard to find/rare types of queries I will maybe look through 5 pages of results before refining my query and that’s ONLY if the first page turns up at least one helpful result.  For “should be easy to find” types of queries I will only look on the first page of results – any more pages and my query probably isn’t specific enough.

Why do this?  If you don’t, you’ll always go to the next page believing that there will be a nugget buried there that you’ll miss if you don’t check.  Listen to me.  It’s NEVER there!  Don’t waste time – put up a “do not cross” sign and if you come to it, then it’s time for a new query.

Hopefully these tips help improve the quality of your searches and decrease the time it takes you to find what you are looking for!

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