Guardian’s top search tips for Google not quite tiptop

I have just been alerted by fellow search expert Alison McNab to an article by Samuel Gibbs (@SamuelGibbs) in the Guardian on top search tips for Google.  I had to double check the date of the article because although it is OK for the most part it has got a few things wrong, one of the commands was withdrawn some time ago,  and it has missed what I consider to be one of the most important Google search options.

So let’s have a look at the tips one by one.

  1. Exact phrase.

Yes, placing double quote marks around words usually makes Google search for the exact phrase. However, Google does sometimes ignore the quote marks.

2.  Exclude terms

Yes, preceding a term with a minus sign will exclude documents containing that term

3. Either OR

Yes, the OR command does work when searching on alternative terms – most of the time. Make sure the OR is in capital letters.

4. Synonym search

Tilde symbol (~) for a synonym search? No! Google withdrew it over two years ago  because not many people used it. Google now looks for synonyms by default. If you precede a term with a tilde Google ignores it and carries on as normal. I’ve just tried several searches with and without the tilde and get exactly the same results.

5. Search within a site

Yes. The site: command is one of the most powerful advanced search commands and enables you to search within a single site, for example site:www,gov.uk, or a type of site, for example site:ac.uk for UK academic sites.

6. The power of the asterisk

Yes, the asterisk can stand in for one or more terms between two words, for example solar * panels. No, it is not a truncation symbol.

The example given by The Guardian  is a search on architect*, which finds “architect, but also architectural, architecture, architected, architecting and any other word which starts with architect.” As with synonyms, Google searches for variations on a word by default.

I ran a search on phenobarb* expecting Google to pick up references to phenobarbitone. It picked up 76,000 results including phenobarbital but there was no mention of phenobarbitone in the first 100 documents.  Phenobarb without the asterisk picked up the exact same results. Excluding phenobarbitone by using the minus sign gave me 70,000 results.  A search on phenobarbitone, with and without the asterisk came up with 241,000 results.

7. Searching between two values

Yes. The number range search does work and is great for searching within a range of values or years.  For example:

chocolate consumption forecasts 2016..2020

top 10..100 UK car insurance companies

toblerone 1..5 kg

8. Search for word in the body, title or URL of a page

This covers the commands intext:, intitle: and inurl:.  All correct but intext: is especially useful in that it forces Google to include that term in the search. It is invaluable if you find Google dropping key terms from your strategy, which it does if you are likely to retrieve zero results or it thinks the number of results is too low.

9. Search for related sites

The related: command looks for similar sites, for example related:theguardian.com finds other news organisations. It works but only shows you 20-30 sites. Worthwhile using, though, if you want to broaden your search to other but similar organisations and only have one or two to start with.

10. Combine them

I wholeheartedly agree with this one. Once you have a few advanced commands under your belt you can really start to focus your search and retrieve more relevant results.

What’s missing?

I’m surprised that filetype: was not included. It is nearly always on the list of top tips that my advanced search workshop participants suggest at the end of the day.  It’s a quick and easy way of finding presentations (filetype:ppt, filetype pptx), government documents and research papers (filetype:pdf) and datasets (filetype:xls, filetype: xlsx, filetype:csv).

The major omission for me, though, is Verbatim. It is different from the rest in that it is not a command that you can type in. You have to run your search first. From the menu at the top of the results select ‘Search tools’, followed by ‘All results’  and  then ‘Verbatim’. Use this when Google is wreaking havoc on your search by leaving out terms and using weird and wonderful terms that have nothing to do with your subject. Verbatim will search on all of your terms without dropping any or looking for variations and synonyms.

Verbatim

If you are interested in learning more about advanced search in Google and other search tools, some of my past presentations and fact sheets are available at http://rba.co.uk/as/.  If you are interested in attending a workshop my public access training schedule for 2016 is at http://www.rba.co.uk/training/ (more events will be added shortly).

“Do not track” does not mean anonymous browsing

A question that I’m often asked is “do search engines that don’t track your search history also anonymize your IP address?” DuckDuckGo is the first search tool that often springs to mind with respect to “do not track”.  It does not store searches, web history or IP addresses when you use it to search. Also, it does not pass on the search terms you used to the sites that you visit. However, the sites that you visit will still be able to see your IP address.  See https://duckduckgo.com/privacy for further details.

Ixquick (http://ixquick.com/) and StartPage (http://startpage.com/) are similar but have an additional feature that gives you the option to display a page from the results list using a proxy. Run the search as normal and you’ll see the usual set of results. Next to each result you should see a “proxy” link. Click on that and you go through a proxy server making you invisible to the website you are visiting.

Ixquick

Any links that you subsequently click on and which are on the same site also go through the proxy. As soon as you follow any links that take you off that site then you are warned that you that you will be “unproxied”.

Ixquick2

The disadvantages of using the proxy option are that it can be slower, some functions on the page may not work, and I have come across some pages that do not display at all.

Articles and top tips in eLucidate

The latest eLucidate from UKeiG is now out at  and available at http://www.cilip.org.uk/uk-einformation-group/elucidate/elucidate-current-issue. My contributions to this issue are Alphabet Soup (about the changes and restructuring of Google), top tips on Exploiting Google and Kicking the Google Habit.

The two “top tips” articles came out of two workshops I facilitated for UKeiG in Manchester and came from the participants themselves. I am repeating the workshops – significantly updated following recent announcements –  next week in London; Essential non-Google Search Tools and New Google, New Challenges.  If you are interested and want to learn more, there is still time to book a place on either or both of the workshops.

Wayback Machine gets funding to rebuild and add keyword searching

The Wayback Machine (http://www.archive.org/), also known as the Internet Archive,  is always a popular site on my search workshops. It is a fantastic way of discovering how web pages looked in the past and for tracking down documents that are no longer on the live web.

Wayback-UKOLUG
UKOLUG Home Page 27th April 1999

It isn’t 100% guaranteed to have what you are looking for and at present you need the URL of the web site or document in order to use it. People often ask if keyword searching is possible; it isn’t at the moment but it will be.

The Internet Archive has received support from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF) and will be re-building the Wayback Machine. When it is completed in 2017, the next generation Wayback Machine will have more webpages that are easier to find and will include keyword indexing of homepages.

Further details of the rebuild are on the Internet Archive blog at http://blog.archive.org/2015/10/21/grant-to-develop-the-next-generation-wayback-machine/

 

Google introduces RankBrain

Original at https://www.flickr.com/photos/healthblog/8384110298
Original at https://www.flickr.com/photos/healthblog/8384110298

We’ve known for some time that Google has been buying heavily into artificial intelligence and looking at applying it not only to its robotics and driverless cars projects but also to search. Now it is official: artificial intelligence and machine learning plays a major role in processing Google queries and is, Google says,  the third most important signal in ranking results. It has been named RankBrain.

Danny Sullivan covers the story in Search Engine Land and looks at the implications for search. There is a follow up story  by Danny that goes into more detail, FAQ: All About The New Google RankBrain Algorithm, and he makes a guess at what the number 1 and 2 ranking signals are (Google won’t say!).

Both are very interesting articles on how Google is using RankBrain in search especially the FAQ,  which is a “must read” if you want to begin to understand how Google is now handling your search.

Slides from my talk given at the Anybook Oxford Libraries conference

The slides from my talk at the Anybook Oxford Libraries Conference in July 2015 are now available on Slideshare via the Bodleian Staff Development account.

Google: The Answer to Life, The Universe and Everything  http://www.slideshare.net/BodStaffDev/karen-blakeman

As well as advanced Google search features and alternative search tools I comment on the direction Google is going in. Note that this presentation was given before the Alphabet announcement. Those of you who have attended my Google and non-Google search tool workshops should know most of what is in the slides, but they might serve as a useful reminder.

It is also available on authorSTEAM at http://www.authorstream.com/Presentation/karenblakeman-2553775-google-answer-life-universe-everything/

Google rolls out “People also ask”

There have been reports (http://searchengineland.com/google-tests-new-mobile-search-design-people-also-ask-box-219078) for several months that Google has been testing a new query refinement box called “People also ask”.  It now looks as though it has gone live. The feature suggests queries related to your search after the first few entries in your results list. It doesn’t appear for all queries and it is dependent on how you ask the question. My search on ‘what are statins’ gave me the usual, standard results list.  When I searched on ‘types of statins’ the ‘People also ask’ box popped up with “How do statins work to lower cholesterol?”, “How do statins lower cholesterol?” and “What is a statin drug?

Google-People-Aslk-Statins

To see further information you have to click on the downward pointing arrow next to the query but instead of a list of sites you see just an extract from a page supposedly answering the question, a bit like the Quick Answers that sometimes appear at the top of your search results. There is an option, though, to run a full search on the query you have chosen.  As with the Quick Answers, there are no clues as to how or why Google has selected a particular page to answer the query.

The queries for ‘People also ask’ are also different from the suggested queries that are listed as you type in your question into the standard Google search box.Google-Suggested-Search-queries

Those of you who have attended my talks and workshops will no doubt be waiting for me to come up with an example of a Google howler. Here it is: a search on ‘tomato blight prevention uk’ comes up with “What is potato blight?” (close, and the organism that causes late potato and tomato blight is the same) and “What is an ANEMBRYONIC pregnancy?”.

Google-People-Ask

No, I don’t know what an ANEMBRYONIC  pregnancy is (why the capital letters?) but it has nothing to do with potato or tomato blight!

At present, this is not a feature that I am finding useful. For me it is a hindrance rather than a help and just clutters up the results page with superficial or irrelevant suggestions. But as my queries tend to be quite complex and often incorporate advanced search commands, which seem to disable it, I don’t expect to be seeing much of this feature.

UKeiG Article: New Google, New Challenges

From "Introducing Spot", Boston Dynamics, Introducing Spot - YouTube  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8YjvHYbZ9w
From “Introducing Spot”, Boston Dynamics, Introducing Spot – YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8YjvHYbZ9w

My article on major changes at Google, “New Google, New Challenges”, is now available in UKeiG’s latest issue of eLucidate at http://www.cilip.org.uk/uk-einformation-group/elucidate-ukeigs-journal/elucidate-current-issue/new-google-new-challenges

As well as the general dumbing down and relentless removal of search options, it covers the new technologies that Google is experimenting with: artificial intelligence, driver-less cars, robotics, home environment sensors and controls. Some of this is already being integrated with search and “mobile”.

I am running  a “New Google, New Challenges” workshop for UKeiG this autumn in Manchester and London. It concentrates on search, how the changes at Google are impacting the way it manages our search and presents results, and how to use what is left of the advanced search techniques and specialist databases for more relevant research results.

UK company information now free of charge

A year ago Companies House announced that they were going to make all of their company information available free of charge to everyone. The press release was short on detail and many of us wondered what format the data would be in and how easy it would be to use. Daily files containing accounts data registered on the previous day were already available but these are huge zip files that, when unpacked, contain files with meaningless names. (http://download.companieshouse.gov.uk/en_accountsdata.html). Unless you have software that can manage and search the data it is impossible to identify which files contain information on the company you are researching. Companies-House-Free-1

 

For most of us the files are useless.  Was this to be the format of the free service? Thankfully, no.

A new beta service at http://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/ now enables you to search for companies by name or number and obtain free of charge:

  • Company overviews
  • Current and resigned officers
  • Document images
  • Mortgage charge data
  • Previous company names
  • Insolvency data

Companies-House-Free-2

For the officers you can see what other companies they are involved with. What you cannot do at the moment is search by director name from the start. That is a “planned feature” as are disqualified directors search, company monitoring, company name availability, dissolved companies and overseas data. For those options you have to revert to the old WebCHeck service at http://wck2.companieshouse.gov.uk/.

The new beta service is easy to use and at last we have access to UK company documents and accounts free of charge. So, does this mean the end of services such as Company Check (http://companycheck.co.uk/) and DueDil (http://www.duedil.com/)? Not necessarily. Company Check, for example, already has an option for searching by director name and there are also useful charting, monitoring and structure options as well as access to some European companies. They also offer access to risk scores, credit reports and County Court Judgments (all priced). All of these services only allow you to search for companies one at a time: there is no multi-criteria search that you can use to find companies by turnover, number of employees, industry sector for example. Neither can you compare companies or conduct a detailed peer group analysis. For that you still have to use priced services such as BvD (http://www.bvdinfo.com/)

Overall, a move in the right direction and ideal if your needs are simple, for example accounts and director information for a live company. But look carefully at what features are available before you cancel your subscription service.

 

Business information – sources and search techniques

Business Information - sources and search techniques

I am running my full day business information, sources and search techniques workshop for the Commercial, Legal and Scientific Information Group (CLSIG).

Date: Thursday, 16 July 2015,  9:30am to 4:30pm

Venue: CILIP, 7 Ridgmount Street, WC1E 7AE London . See map: Google Maps

Cost:  CLSIG/CILIP Members £85;  Non-members  £100; Concessions £50

Contact for bookings: Marie.cannon@nortonrosefulbright.com

For further details of the workshop content contact  karen.blakeman@rba.co.uk

Search engines, government and official information sources, and the EU regulatory environment are continually changing. All of these affect how we search and the information that is presented to us. In some cases information may be deliberately excluded from our results. This one day workshop will look at what’s new, key resources for business and official information, and how to use search tools to ensure you are picking up everything that you need. There will be time for practical sessions so that you can try some of the exercises provided, or experiment with your own searches. Lunch and refreshments are included.

Topics covered include:

  • effect of EU legislation on research and due diligence
  • increase in official open data – accessibility, quality, usability
  • changes to Google and other search tools, and their impact on research
  • starting points, evaluated listings and government sources
  • company information: official sources; free open data sources worldwide; companies that repackage official company information – pros and cons
  • news sources and alerting services
  • the value of social media and professional networks for business intelligence
  • statistics, market and industry data

Please email Marie Cannon to book your place (Marie.cannon@nortonrosefulbright.com)

News and comments on search tools and electronic resources for research