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Use and Abuse of Search Engines

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Ever Googled something? Then you have made use of a ‘Search Engine’. When you hear the words, ‘Search Engine’ it is easy to envision a handy site that helps you find the answers to life’s most puzzling questions. Like who starred in that one movie, what are the statistics on a specific piece of technology, or even looking up what coupons are available online. But what, exactly, is a search engine? A search engine is a hyper-text transfer protocol (http) tool that uses computer programs called spiders to crawl through the inter-connected webbing of the Internet logging words on each and every page.

When someone, much like you, types words into the search box the engine scans its database of logged words trying to find a reference and then display links to pages that contain the specified word(s). This can lead to thousands upon thousands of results if you are searching for some common word or phrase and may not be what you are looking for, especially if the search engine’s database is a large one.

To use a search engine effectively, you should apply some techniques to narrow down the results and improve the priority of the top hits. In this article, I am going to cover some strategies for boosting the performance of your chosen search engine. One of these ways is to use tools known as BOOLEAN operators.

First and foremost, let’s talk about Keywords. When searching for something, break it down into core concepts. For example, say you are looking for a TechWareLabs article on the latest AMD news you would want to search for the keywords ‘techwarelabs, new, amd’; however, instead of just typing the words in sequence and finding anything involving any combination of the words ‘techwarelabs, new, amd’ you want to find something that has all three. This is where BOOLEAN operators come into play. BOOLEAN operators are AND, OR, NOT, +, and -.

So, in our example you would want to search for ‘techwarelabs AND new AND amd.’ Because you used AND between each keyword the engine will only display results that include all three keywords on the page. This can drastically narrow your search. Now, let’s say you want to search for an article that included information on several topics, but all from one location. How would you search for that? You would use the OR and the AND operators together. You would search for something like this: ‘techwarelabs AND (amd OR asus OR hp OR epson) AND new.’ What this tells the search engine is that you are looking for pages that contain the keywords TechWareLabs, New, and either AMD, ASUS, HP, or Epson. This allows you to expand or narrow your search drastically and by using the parenthesis you can goup keywords together.

Ever try searching for something that is commonly associated with something else forcing you to wade through pages of results to actually get to what you want? Did you know that you can avoid that headache? Well, you can by using the NOT operator. For example, you want to do a search on dolphins, not the Miami kind, but the aquatic creature in general. You could type ‘dolphin AND NOT miami’ into your search and you will have successfully eliminated any pages where those two keywords are found together. Neat ability, don’t you think? I mentioned the Plus (+) and Minus (-) operators earlier. These two are actually shortcuts for AND and AND NOT, that can save you some time when typing up a search, especially if it is a complex one. How you use these operators is simple: add them before each keyword you want to modify. Using the dolphin search from a moment ago let’s search for ‘+dolphin –miami.’ Make sense?

Using BOOLEAN operators in your searches provide a means of fine tuning a search engine to your needs. An extremely powerful search tool is known as phrasing. This is when you tell the search engine that you only want documents that have specific words side-by-side and not just together within the document. You can perform a phrase search by surrounding your phrase in quotation marks “like so.” For the best results you ideally want to combine the BOOLEAN operators and phrases to find something specific. For example, if you were to search using any engine typing ‘the causes of asthma attacks in young adults’ you would be searching for each of those words independently, which would result in a lot of pages being displayed; however, if you were to type ‘+”asthma attacks” +cause +”young adult”’ you would tell the search engine that you were only looking for pages that had the phrases asthma attacks and young adult together with cause in there as well.

As you can see the difference in results is over 9,000! Actually, it is over 200,000 fewer pages being displayed as results to your search. That is a 71% reduction that could be further improved upon with yet more techniques on how to use and abuse search engines, which will be discussed in the next article.

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