Improve your web searches

Searching online is an essential skill when using the internet. It helps you find what you are looking for, more quickly, rather than sifting through loads of webpages.

The key tool here is the search engine – Remember a browser is not a search engine, it’s just an app that lets you look at webpages on the internet. The more popular search engines are Google, Bing and Yahoo. 

In this article I’m going to talk about the Google search engine only – This is because all search engine work roughly the same, so something that works on Google should work on Yahoo or Bing.

There are two ways to access a search engine – Firstly go to the search engines homepage (e.g. Alternatively, in your browsers address bar, just type your query.

With a few basic strategies you will be able to find what it is you are looking for.

  • Keep the search simple – Just use a few keywords that are specific to your search (Though you can also type an actual question if it’s not too long)
  • Consider suggestions – Most search engines use a technology called autocomplete. As you start typing your search term, the search engine will start making suggestions
  • Use natural language – Just use your normal words in the search

After you submit your search you will get numerous results back, and it’s important to understand a little how the results are set out.

The search engine will list first the results it thinks are most appropriate, beware though, that there will also be results high up in the list that may not be so appropriate. This is because these results rankings have been paid for (the company has paid for its adverts to be placed on the first page of any searches).

If you have searched for a shop then usually the results are the ones that are nearest you, or where the search engine thinks you are. Usually, you will also be given a map with directions.

On the results page, at the top, you will see categories (e.g. All, images, news, video etc). This can help you refine the results further.

If you struggle to get the results you want, try different keywords.

It’s also possible to use an advanced search. For example, when using the Google Search engine, type “Google Advanced Search”. This brings up a whole range of additional options that you can use to refine a search (Google also have a separate advanced search for images).

Search engines can also do what’s called fast facts – This is answers to common questions such as maths equations, translations, definitions, weather forecast, conversions (miles to kilometre) or sports scores.

Another option is the tools function – This appears when the results of a search are brought back to you (some search engines show a link called tools; others show the tools automatically – The result is the same, just further options to refine your search).

As mentioned before make use of autocomplete (usually turned on by default), this suggests search terms based on what you type.

It’s useful to concentrate on spelling. If the search engine thinks you have misspelled one or more of the search terms, it will offer alternative spellings. When typing a search, you don’t need to worry about capitalisation, punctuation or grammar.