Tips for Effective Searching: Knowing your Defaults Results in Better Google Search Engine Results

October 13, 2011

by Sandy Malloy, Senior Information Specialist

Sandy Malloy, Senior Information SpecialistIn our recent post on free tools for monitoring your press releases, we encouraged users to revisit their Google Alerts settings.  This valuable service was established years ago.  Lots of us signed up then and have never looked back.  We hope you’ve updated your alert settings and are getting better results after a quick check-up.

The same is true for ad hoc searching.  Nonchalant typing of a phrase into the Google search box can be tempting, but a few thoughtful tips can help you get the most out of the search experience.  Here’s a few to get you started.

1)  Know your defaults.  It’s good to know your faults, but when it comes to searching, it’s even more important to know your defaults. Many of these can be changed to improve results.

For example, a search on Google Web (http://www.google.com) defaults to “everything.”   Sounds comprehensive, right?

Not necessarily.  An automatic blanket search can have drawbacks.   The information you are seeking often gets buried beneath higher-ranking but irrelevant pages.  You  may be better served searching individual Google content areas such as news, images  or Web separately.  Also, try Advanced Search (discussed below).

The order in which results are displayed can also affect your results.  The default sort order is “relevance.”  This type of sorting  works great for non-news websites.  For news, sorting by date is often better.

Unless you specify otherwise, Google will suppress apparent duplicate content.  Again, for some types of searches, that’s fine.  If you want to find a company’s website, it’s usually the first result on the page and you don’t need anything else.  Or you may want to know that a piece of news appeared and don’t care which version of the story you see.  But what if you want to see how widely that story was disseminated?  Google will show you one version of the story unless you override duplicate suppression.

2)  Searching for exact phrases is a common strategy, but did you know you can use quotes around your phrase or dashes between the words for exact matches?

If you don’t, Google will search that combination of words in any order and not necessarily next to one another.  That can result in weird returns such as this recent search for stories about Fire Prevention Week.

I added no quotes or dashes. The third result: “The State Police forensic team, State Fire Prevention and Control, A week after the fire, owners Mike and Jim Frazee said they plan to rebuild their .…”

For common combinations of words (e.g., “Barack Obama”) it’s not that critical to be more specific.  But combinations of common words can spit out irrelevant results that nevertheless rank high because all the words are present.

3)  Make Advanced Search your friend.  It will allow you to put in phrases without worrying about the format (see #2 above), combine words and phrases (hint:  a phrase using a dash, e.g. fire-prevention-week, can be used as a “word” in the advanced search form) and even allow you to narrow your search using other parameters such as source name or domain.  The domain option in Google Web is a great way to find information from non-commercial sources.  For instance, you can find health-related information coming from educational (.edu) or government (.gov) sources, or nonprofits (.org)  In News, I like to specify my time frame as well.


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