Top Search Tips

Edited by: Karen Blakeman, RBA Information Services http://www.rba.co.uk/, http://www.twitter.com/karenblakeman

At the end of our advanced search workshops participants are asked to come up with a collective list of top search tips. These can be search tools, individual web sites or search techniques. What follows is a compilation of the tips from several workshops.

  1. It isn't your fault!
    Results can vary from one minute to the next. You run your search a second time in Google and you get a completely different set of results. Don't worry - it isn't you. Google results are rarely consistent and can change from one moment to the next.
  2. Try another search engine.
    If you have had enough of Google try DuckDuckGo (http://duckduckgo.com/) as an alternative. DDG does not track, filter or personalise and several people found some of the results to be better than Google's. Also worth trying are Bing (http://www.bing.com/), Blekko (http://www.blekko.com/) and Yandex (http://www.yandex.com/).
  3. Be aware of personalisation
    Get to know how the search engines personalise results and the impact this can have on your search. Google and Bing monitor what you search for, the links you click on and use this to personalise your results and sponsored links/ads accordingly. This information is stored in cookies on the computer you used for the search or as part of your Google or Bing account. They also try and work out your location from your IP address so that they can deliver local content (this sometimes goes horribly wrong!). When signed in to your Google or Bing account both search engines now include content from your social network contacts.
  4. Get to know Google
    Get to know the advanced search features of Google both on the advanced search screen and in the menus above your results.
  5. Use social media search tools for more up to date information. For example http://www.topsy.com/, http://www.socialmention.com/ and http://www.whostalkin.com.
  6. Google Custom Search Engine http://www.google.com/cse/.
    Create your own Google search engine that searches only the sites that you have specified. Great if you are always searching the same sites day after day, or want to provide your users with a search tool covering a specific topic.
  7. Use site or domain search for large sites that are impossible to navigate or have diabolical search options. For example: site:europa.eu chocolate labelling requirements .
  8. Repeat the most important term or terms in your search one or more times. For example beer market share France Belgium Czech and beer market share France Belgium Czech Czech Czech give different results.
  9. Enter your search terms in a different order . The search engines will rank and display your results differently and may even run a completely different search.
  10. Remember that you are searching an out of date index of the web when you are using search engines such as Google et Bing.
  11. Creative Commons and public domain images
    If you are looking for an image for a presentation or promotional literature, search for images that have the appropriate Creative Commons (CC) license. There are several licenses with varying degrees of restrictions. Details are on the Creative Commons web site at http://www.creative.commons.org/. You can search Flickr photos that have a specific creative commons license at http://www.flickr.com/creativecommons/ or use Compfight (http://www.compfight.com/). Geograph (http://www.geograph.org.uk/) is a useful site if you are looking for landmarks, historic buildings or geographical features. It "aims to collect geographically representative photographs and information for every square kilometre of Great Britain and Ireland". All photos have a Creative Commons attribution share alike license.
  12. If your search involves numbers, distances, weights, prices or measurements of any sort use the numeric range search in Google. For example: toblerone 1..5 kg to find online shops selling giant bars of toblerone.
  13. Google Trends http://www.google.com/trends
    Enter up to five topics and see how often they've been searched in Google over time and in different geographic regions. This is a way of identifying how people are searching on a subject.
  14. Google Reading Level
    Try ‘Reading level' if Google is failing to return any research or business related documents for a query. Run your search and from the menu above the results select ‘Search tools', ‘All results' and from the drop menu ‘Reading level'. Options for switching between basic, intermediate and advanced reading levels should then appear just above the results. Click on the Advanced option to see results biased towards research. Google does not give much away as to how it calculates the reading level and it has nothing to do with the reading age that publishers assign to publications. It seems to involve an analysis of sentence structure, the length of sentences, the length of the document and whether scientific or industry specific terminology appears in the page.
  15. TinEye Labs http://labs.tineye.com/
    Multicolr Search Lab (http://labs.tineye.com/multicolr/) searches 10 million Creative commons Flickr images by colour. You can specify more than one colour and click on a colour several times to increase its prominence within the image. You can easily click through to the original Flickr image to double check the license. TinEye Reverse Image Search (http://www.tineye.com/) lets you type in the URL of an image or upload one of your own and TinEye will find similar images, how it is being used, if modified versions of the image exist, or if there is a higher resolution version.

Last updated December 16, 2014

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa Copyright © Karen Blakeman, 2013

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