|Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky
|Volume 2 Issue 5
Google has become the most popular method of searching on the internet. If you've never used it before, here's my advice on how to get started. If you're already familiar with it, read on, you may learn something new!
|How do I search using Google?
What is Google?
) is a "search engine," which means that it has two main parts:
How do I search on Google?
- It examines billions of web pages periodically, and maintains an index of their text content (words).
- It lets you search through all that information to find web pages you might be interested in.
When you go to google.com, you'll see the "search box," a short, wide rectangle.
- Click anywhere in this box. This places your insertion point (vertical blinking line) into this field.
- Type in one or more keywords (see below for details).
- Click the "Google Search" button, or press Enter on your keyboard (Return on a Macintosh keyboard).
- You'll then see a new web page displaying your search results, with the most relevant (or popular) matches first and a link to each matching web page, along with an approximate count of the total number of matches. Google shows you 10 matches at a time by default, plus "Sponsored Links" (advertising based on your search) in a column on the right.
- You can click on any of the links (text that's blue and underlined) to visit that web page, or you can refine or change your keywords and search again.
- To return to Google, just click the Back button in your web browser.
(The "I'm Feeling Lucky" button takes you to the first matching web page--supposedly the best match--without showing you the search results. Most of the time I don't find this helpful.)
Searching has two essential parts:
- Coming up with keywords to describe what you're looking for.
- Understanding how Google will interpret what you type.
The best approach is to use words or phrases that you imagine would appear on the web page you want to find. Below are four useful aspects of Google's search language, which can be used in any combination.
Search language: Simple keyword list (AND)
The simplest search consists of one or more keywords, with a space between each word; extra spaces are ignored. This searches for web pages that contain all
of your keywords, in any order, anywhere on the page. The more keywords you enter, the fewer (but presumably more relevant) matches you'll get. This is an implicit "AND" query, since it tells Google to search for keyword 1 "and" keyword 2 "and" keyword 3, etc., but you don't actually enter the word "and." Capitalization doesn't matter. For example:
- golf pebble beach
- golf pebble beach discount
The first search above finds 499,000,000 matches, the second finds 2,500,000, and the third finds 1,370,000. When I'm searching, I start with just a few important words and see what kind of results I get. Most of the time I then have to add additional important terms to narrow the results.
Google also ignores very common words, including "the," "a," "an," "and," "or," and "of."
Search language: Phrase search
Entering multiple keywords surrounded by double-quotes tells Google that you want a "phrase search," i.e., only web pages that contain all of your keywords together in the exact order you entered. This will return fewer results, but will more likely find what you intended. For example:
- "don't it make my brown eyes blue"
- "albert einstein"
- "the sound of music"
- "the sound of music" lyrics
Note that this last example combines a phrase and a keyword, looking for web pages that contain both.
Search language: OR search
I often search for products to purchase, but some web pages display "price" while others use "buy." Rather than doing two separate searches, I can use the special OR keyword (uppercase required) to do a wider search, returning more results:
- couch price OR buy
- couch (price OR buy)
- couch (price OR buy OR cost) (leather OR cotton)
Notice that the first search above combines the AND and OR concepts, i.e., it says "find web pages that contain 'couch' and either 'price' or 'buy.' " The second search is equivalent to the first. The third search says "find web pages that contain 'couch' and either 'price' or 'buy' or 'cost,' and that also contain either 'leather' or 'cotton,' " which shows that you can use many OR terms, and you can have multiple sets of OR terms if they're separated by parentheses.
Search language: Exclude (NOT) search
- Ford Fairlane price OR buy
- spielberg movie OR video
- "hybrid car" comparison OR review OR comments
My search results often contain many matches that I'd like to exclude, so I can focus on the ones I prefer to see. Putting a minus sign (-) in front of the keywords or phrases you want omitted (with no space between the minus sign and the keyword) tells Google to narrow your search in this way. For example:
- spielberg -jaws
- antivirus -norton -mcafee
- "Abraham Lincoln" -"civil war"
These searches look for "spielberg and not jaws," "antivirus and neither norton nor mcafee," and " 'Abraham Lincoln' but not 'civil war,' " respectively.
Is Google the only search engine?
There are a number of other search engines, including many that came before Google and some that have better features, but Google is currently the most popular. According to Hitwise (http://www.hitwise.com
), in April 2008 the four most popular search engines were Google (68%), Yahoo (20%), MSN (4.5%), and Ask (4.2%).
Search engine limitations
No search engine is perfect:
Google and your privacy
- Searches are literal, not conceptual. You can only match words on a web page, so you may not find what you're looking for, especially if shades of meaning are involved, or if the web page you'd love to find doesn't use your most important keyword, or has it misspelled.
- Internet searches only find things on the internet. If you're looking for a local car mechanic and the fantastic one near you doesn't have a web page (and isn't mentioned on other people's web pages), you probably won't find them online.
- Searches only find web pages whose owners want them to be found. Google doesn't index every web site (a collection of web pages) on the internet, it has to be asked. Some companies have private or fee-based data, so they either don't submit them to Google or control access in other ways.
- The index may take weeks or months to be updated. If a web page is new, it may not be in the index yet. If it's changed recently, your search may not find it, or you may find it only to discover that it doesn't match your search anymore.
- Searches can't gauge credibility. Just because someone wrote it on a web page doesn't make it true.
- Search engines are free because they're supported by advertising. On Google, you'll see "Sponsored Links" in the right-hand column, ads based on your search keywords. Companies can also pay Google to list their web pages at the beginning of your search results.
Just like any other web page, when you use google.com they receive not only your search keywords but also your IP address, which enables them to transmit your search results back to your computer. While this doesn't reveal your name or address, your IP address does uniquely identify your internet connection (at any given time), which raises the possibility that Google may develop a consumer profile on your household or office based on all the searches you have performed over time, and then use that information in the future, including selling it to advertisers. I recently learned about one organization that has created a way to use Google that prevents Google from getting your IP address (and also removes all the advertising):
- Go to http://www.scroogle.org (not scroogle.com)
- Click on "Scroogle scraper" on the right (or click the padlock next to "secure browser link" on the left for a secure, encrypted connection)
- Enter your keywords in the search box
- Click the "Search" button
This is one way to use Google and still preserve your anonymity.
Where to go from here
- Curious about something? Got a favorite hobby or an important issue on your mind? Try searching for it, you'll be amazed at what you'll find!
- Remember that searching online won't find everything, since everything isn't on the internet.
- Explore Google's Preferences (e.g., by default, "results per page" is set to 10 and "filtering" is set to "moderate").
- Click "Advanced Search" to refine your searches with an easy-to-use form.
- Be a healthy skeptic--don't believe everything you read!
- You can also use Google to find Images, Maps, News, and other things by clicking the links at the top of Google's web page.
- When you visit web sites with lots of data (such as eBay.com, amazon.com, nytimes.com, cnn.com, etc.), look for their search functions, but remember that each has its own distinct search language, different from Google's.
If you know someone else who might find this helpful, please feel free to forward it to them.
If you have any comments about this article, send me a reply!
If you have a topic that you'd like me to write about, I'd love to hear about it!
In this section of my newsletter I will sometimes recommend trusted colleagues and other times I'll suggest useful products and software. Today's recommendation is:
Blue Penguin Development, Inc.
One Ash Street
Hopkinton, MA 01748
I met Michael at a Society of Professional Consultants (http://www.spconsultants.org
) meeting back in 2001. He was the speaker for the evening, an unassuming guy in a nice suit. I wasn't expecting to be impressed. After all, this was a consultant talking to a room full of consultants, something predictable like the buffet dinner with chicken, rice, and salad. But when Michael started to talk, I remember perking up and paying more attention. He was interesting, he had an opinion, experience, a self-deprecating dry wit, and he effortlessly wove his personal stories into his presentation. What was he talking about? Using electronic newsletters to stay in touch with people, give them something of value to read, and remind them that you're still in business. I liked what he had to say, but felt it was too much work for me to implement. However, I introduced myself after his presentation and told him how much I enjoyed it. "You should start a newsletter," he told me.
A few years later Michael spoke at the SPC again. This time his personal stories included his wife and kids, as well as his familiar, self-effacing, quietly funny perspective on what seems to work (and what to avoid) when starting or maintaining electronic newsletters. After he was done I said hello again and thanked him for a great presentation. "You should start a newsletter, computer tips," he told me.
In February 2007 I found myself thinking about different ways I might expand what I do, and finally decided to explore the newsletter concept. There was only one person to call: Michael. He was very kind and helpful. He gave me expert advice ("Just start!"), the beginning of a long list of important issues to consider, and helped me articulate the most important one: my relationship with the reader. I started working my way through his terrific "Do-It-Yourself E-Newsletter System." Every page covered a different aspect, with advice clearly based on years of experience. I couldn't have asked for a more complete set of questions to ask myself to prepare to do this, and do it well.
I also started reading Michael's "E-Newsletter On E-Newsletters," his free newsletter about producing great newsletters that people read and remember. Then, along with the help of some friends, colleagues, and clients I came up with a name for my newsletter, developed a theme, and finally started publishing in July 2007. I couldn't have done it without Michael, certainly not as well. And, on top of all that, he likes reading my newsletter!
So, if you've ever thought about producing a newsletter, whether for a business or a nonprofit or a volunteer group, call my newsletter guru. (Alright, check out his web site first, that also works!) You'll also have to call him to find out why he chose such an odd company name. He told me once, but I forgot.
Michael specializes in working (almost) exclusively with professional service providers, e.g., consultants, coaches, financial planners, etc.
Michael's also the author of three books:
and on his web site you can download 4 free chapters from his latest book.
Here's how to contact Michael:
Tell him I sent you!
How to contact me:
phone: (617) 484-6657
On a regular basis I write about real issues faced by typical computer users. To subscribe to this newsletter, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
and I'll add you to the list, or visit http://www.kadansky.com/newsletter
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Your privacy is important to me. I do not share my newsletter mailing list with anyone else, nor do I rent it out.
Copyright (C) 2008 Kadansky Consulting, Inc. All rights reserved.
I love helping people learn how to use their computers better! Like a "computer driving instructor," I work 1-on-1 with small business owners and individuals to help them find a more productive and successful relationship with their computers and other high-tech gadgets.
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