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Simplifying Net searches

Simplifying Net searches
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First Published: Wed, Mar 07 2007. 12 25 AM IST
Updated: Wed, Mar 07 2007. 12 25 AM IST
Google ushered in a time when finding information on the Internet became second nature. But this can also be a frustrating exercise when you don’t get the results you expect. However, there are many ways of enhancing search results so that you get just what you are looking for with minimal fuss.
The first page
Often when you search for something, the first page of results is where you are most likely to click. Knowing this, most web sites employ something called Search Engine Optimization so that their site shows up high in the results when someone searches with a set of keywords.
This is a science and web sites spend good time and money to ensure that their results are high enough, but it may not always be what you are looking for.
If your query is indeed generic and not specific, it will serve you well to go through more pages until you find what you are looking for.
Search basics
A search for “mobile phones” when what you’re really looking for is the user manual of a particular phone will throw up a list of results that may or may not interest you. Some results will point to pages, sites and shops outside India. What’s the use of this? To be frank, the term used here is too generic and hence the results are not focused enough.
It always helps to be as elaborate in your search query as possible. “User manual for Nokia N70” will certainly point you to the exact page where you can read or download the manual but just typing “N70” will still make you search through the results a bit more.
Google does not include terms such as “as”, “in” and other common words when searching. It simply slows down the process and does not effect the results. Google also does not bother with cases, i.e., whether a word is all caps or all-lower case.
So don’t waste time trying to punctuate your search results. Just ensure that the phrase with which you search for something is as to the point as possible.
The math of search
If in case you are looking for something very specific, like, say India’s GDP in 2005, don’t search for just “India GDP”. Make sure you enter the year. Let your query be “india gdp 2005”.
To further narrow down your search, you could exclude some of the other results that will show up. For instance, by using “+” and “–” signs, you could include or exclude results. A search query that says “+India +gdp +2005” will only throw up results of pages that have India, GDP and 2005.
The “-” sign helps exclude pages that have a particular term. So if you want to search for all pages about India’s GDP but not for 2005, you could search for “india gdp” - 2005.
The quotes will tell the search engine to treat “India gdp” as one term and search for all instances of it while - 2005 will tell the engine to exclude all pages which have the above term and 2005 when returning the results.
So by multiplying two terms (using quotes) and subtracting a known parameter, you have narrowed down your search manifold. And don’t worry. It’s not as tough as it sounds. Just a little practice and before you know it, it’ll be second nature.
Among other things, Google allows users to search only a particular site. So if you want to search www.livemint.com for all Budget 2007-related articles, simply type “site: livemint.com Budget 2007” (without the quotes). All the results you will see on the site will be from www.livemint.com and for stories about Budget 2007.
Similarly, if you own a web site or blog and want to know who all are linking to your site, you can simply search for it! “link:yoursitename.com” will show all the pages that are linking to your site.
Who said a search engine has to be only for searching pages? Chances are most of you have a browser that has a search box within the window. Make the most of this. Just type “100+120” and hit the Enter key and voila! Your calculation is complete! Common commands like “+”, “-”, “*” and “/” work just fine.
Boolean search
Using operators like OR, AND, NEAR, and parentheses can further filter results for you. For example, India OR Bharat will give you all links that have the words India or Bharat in them. But changing this to India AND Bharat will reduce the results to pages that have both terms. NEAR is an interesting operator that can be used to define the proximity of two words. If you type India NEAR Pakistan, it will show all results where the two words are placed close to each other.
Parentheses are used to create complex queries. If you want to search about the assassination history of the Gandhi family, you could use “assassination AND Gandhi +(rajiv or indira)”. This will yield results that have references only to the assassinations of Rajiv Gandhi and Indira Gandhi. But if you want to have another set of results for only Indira Gandhi, you could try this: “assassination AND Gandhi +(rajiv) -indira”. Google might say that it does not include the operator AND in this query and it may be dropped. Parentheses allow us to complete two searches in one go.
Please note that not all the examples and operators mentioned here work with all search engines. Some of these operators are specific and unique to Google.
Yahoo! Search, for example, uses the command “u:” when searching for URLs. Yahoo!, MSN and Google are the three main search engines today and you can use most of these commands in all.
Focused searches using a search engine are easily possible and it’s just a question of knowing some tricks or being precise about your search. To be frank, searching for something on the Internet is rather like searching for a needle in a haystack. You will need to atleast have an idea where the needle is or be prepared to search a bit before you find it.
Write to us at businessoflife@livemint.com
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First Published: Wed, Mar 07 2007. 12 25 AM IST
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