We use search engines to search the web. Google is the most popular - by far - search engine, but others are available (see the links page for alternatives). Google loves collecting data on the people who use its services and keeps a record of your search history. If this concerns you, then this page will show you how to delete your Google search history and stop Google tracking you.
Google may personalise your results, based on your location, your browsing history and the kinds of searches you've performed before, which means that you might get different results on different devices (your phone, a college computer) and in different locations (Galway, Dublin, London) Google doesn't reveal how much personalisation goes on behind the scenes, so when doing a search, you should bear in mind that Google might give you results that it thinks that you want to see, based on what you're searched for and clicked on before.
However, Google is probably the best search engine in terms of results, so the following suggestions for improving - and getting more out of - your Internet searching are optimised for Google, but the same principles apply for other search engines.
Note: The results that appear on the first page of Google may not be there because they are the most relevant results. Advertisers pay to have websites appear at the top of the page and Google uses a variety of techniques to rank search results including how many people click on the link. There's a marketing field called Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) which uses various tricks and techniques to improve the visibility of a website to search engines. SEO is not about making sites better, it's about getting sites as near as possible to the top of the first page of a set of search results, so always be aware that the top search results may not be the most reliable!
This is an SEO practitioner joke:
A study that's admittedly a few years old now, found that 95% of searches end on the first page of search results, while the first search result is clicked on nearly one third of the time. You could be missing out on a lot of interesting and useful material if you do this, also a lot of scholarly, and reliable content won't be using SEO techniques, and will be pushed out of the first page of results, so bear that in mind when you are searching.
Remember, when you're looking at websites, you need to assess them for credibility
This is a nice infographic that gives some ideas to use Google (and other search engines more effectively. Click the image to see a larger version.
Some of these are discussed in a little more detail below
This is the best thing that you can do to improve your search results. The more relevant words you use in your search, the fewer the number of results to wade through, and those that you do see will be more relevant. For example, if you're looking to buy a puppy in Stoneybatter, use those words as your search terms (44 thousand results) not buy a dog in Dublin (16 million results).
Similarly if you're looking for articles on the film director Steve McQueen, search for Steve McQueen director not just Steve McQueen (most of the results will relate to the actor of the same name).
One final example: one of the five pillars of Islam is Salah (or Salat) - prayer. if you wanted to search for information on this, you simply couldn't use Salah as a search term by itself, as Salah is also the surname of a footballer who players for Liverpool FC and he dominates search results. For the religious concept, you'd have to search for something like Salah Islam pillar
Use quotes to search for a phrase
Search engines are pretty dumb; they give you websites that contain the words that you search for. If you're searching for a phrase, search engines don't know this unless you tell the search engine you want the phrase by putting it in quotation marks. Recently there was a letter published in a newspaper concerning the proposed bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland and containing the phrase "for a great part of the 22". This went viral, but how would you find the original source? Searching for a great part of the 22 (without quotation marks) gets you nearly 9 million results at time of writing - and good luck finding the exact phrase, whereas searching for "a great part of the 22" gives 87 thousand results, with the newspaper letters page the 9th result (the previous 8 all contained the text of the letter too). Want to book a holiday online and don't know what are the best websites to look at? Best holiday websites will give you nearly 500 million results. "Best holiday websites" gives you 10 thousand results.
Use the wildcard *
If you need to search for a phrase but aren't quite sure which words to use, then include the asterisk *. The * represents a missing word - which can be any word. For example:
This is useful for finding song lyrics when you don't know all the words. You can use any number of wildcards, but using more might return less accurate results
Search within a specific site (or domain)
If you're looking for something on a site, but don't know exactly where it is and there's no search option (or the site's search option is rubbish), you can use the search engine's "site" option. For example site:gov.ie climate action (searching for the phrase "climate action" would return fewer and perhaps more relevant results) will return any pages on gov.ie websites containing the words climate action.
This also works for top level domains. You could search for "social media marketing" in all sites, but a lot of the top results will be marketing websites. Searching for "social media marketing" site:edu will restrict your search to educational institutions and change the type of results you see
Use + and - to include or exclude words in your results.
Sometimes you might search for a term that might have more than one meaning. A mustang is:
- a wild horse
- a brand of shoe
- both a 2015 film and a 2019 film
- a car
If you search only for mustang, your results will be all over the place. If you want information on the wild horse try:
This will return only results that contain horse and don't contain car
If you want information on the 2019 film, and not the 2015 film try
This will return results containing film and 2019.
You can also exclude sites. if you want to look for "iPad" but not on the Apple site itself then:
Search for a specific file type
For some searches, you might be more interested in retrieving files - e.g. documents or presentations, rather than webpages. For example, to retrieve CV templates prepared as Word documents search for
For PowerPoint presentations on electrical safety, search for:
You can specify many different filetypes, including, but not limited to:
- Adobe Flash (SWF)
- Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF)
- Adobe PostScript (PS)
- Autodesk Design Web Format (DWF)
- Google Earth (KML, KMZ)
- GPS eXchange Format (GPX)
- HTML (HTM, HTML)
- Microsoft Excel (XLS, XLSX)
- Microsoft PowerPoint (PPT, PPTX)
- Microsoft Word (DOC, DOCX)
- OpenOffice presentation (ODP)
- OpenOffice spreadsheet (ODS)
- OpenOffice text (ODT)
- Rich Text Format (RTF)
- Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG)
- TeX/LaTeX (TEX)
- Text (TXT, TEXT, BAS, C, CC, CPP, CXX, H, HPP, CS, JAVA, PL, PY
Use available search options
The Google search results page has various tabs, which might give better results depending upon what your type of search. Remember filtering/refining from the resource searching page? Search engine search options allows you to do a little filtering. You can't fine tune your queries on a search engine the same way as you can on a resource, but you can make your life a bit easier.
If you're looking for images, click on Images. If you're searching for something that's currently in the news or trending, click the News tab.
The Tools menu has two options
Use 'Any time' to narrow results to a particular time (such last week, month or year) or enter a custom time between two dates
To select a custom range, click on 'Custom range' and enter the dates you want
Under 'All results' are two options
- All results: return all results from the search
- Verbatim: explicitly searches for exactly and only your search terms, removing personalised, corrected, suggested, related, and non-inclusive results
Verbatim should reduce the number of results you see and make them more relevant.
There are other tips and tricks you can use - see the links page for more information
Google search hacks infographic source: Twitter Ruth Ann Crystal, MD https://twitter.com/CatchTheBaby/status/1432124463399641088?s=03