This collection of Top Tips is a combined list nominated by those who attended the autumn and spring UKeiG workshops on “Anything but Google”. The participants came from all sectors and types of company, and included a couple of self employed researchers. The sessions covered both general search tools and specialist services, and the list is an interesting mix of strategies and specific sites. A big “Thank- you” to everyone who participated in the workshops.
1. Get to know the advanced search commands and options.
Google is not the only search tool that uses them and they can help focus your search, especially when using general search tools such as Bing.
2. If you are conducting serious research don’t stop with the first reasonable looking results.
Information of dubious quality can infiltrate even the most well respected of specialist websites. Put on your “skeptical goggles” as one delegate said! There are plenty of alternative tools and resources out there so get some corroboration from additional sources before acting on the information you find.
3. Allocate time for your search.
If you are carrying out in-depth research don’t leave it to the last minute. You will probably need to tweak your strategy and try different search tools to ensure that you are retrieving the best information. It can sometimes take longer than you anticipate.
4. Plan your strategy.
Think about the type of search you want to conduct and the type of information you are looking for. For example if you are carrying out a systematic review and want to use Boolean operators forget about Google; head for Bing instead. And if you need official statistics or company information go straight to specialist sites that provide that data.
5. Don’t stick with what you regularly use.
Experiment with other resources, especially if you suspect your default search tool is not telling you the whole story.
6. Country versions of search tools.
Many search tools offer country versions that give priority to the country’s local content, although that might be in the local language. This is a useful strategy when searching for industries, companies and people that are active in a particular country.
7. Learn when to try something else.
If a site’s navigation or internal search engine seems to be returning rubbish don’t struggle with it. Try another route to get to the information. Either try an alternative source of information or use the ‘site:’ command – available in Bing as well as Google – to search inside the site.
8. DuckDuckGo http://www.duckduckgo.com/.
This was recommended for its clean, straightforward layout and the range of resources it offers on a topic. A school librarian commented that the pupils at her school loved it.
9. MillionShort http://millionshort.com/.
If you are fed up with seeing the same results from Google again and again give MillionShort a try. MillionShort enables you to remove the most popular web sites from the results. Originally, as its name suggests, it removed the top 1 million but you can change the number that you want omitted. The page that best answers your question might not be well optimised for search engines or might cover a topic that is so “niche” that it never makes it into the top results in Google or Bing.
10. Carrot Search http://carrotsearch.com/
This was recommended for its clustering of results and also the visualisations of terms and concepts via the circles and “foam tree”. There is a link to the live web demo on the left hand side of the home page.
11. Microsoft academic Search – charts http://academic.research.microsoft.com/
This is a direct competitor to Google Scholar. The site can be slow to load and it sometimes assigns authors to the wrong institution. Nevertheless, the visualisations such as the co-author and citation maps can be useful in identifying who else is working in a particular area of research. The visualisations can be accessed by clicking on the Citation Graph image to the left of the search results or an author profile.
12. Creative Commons and public domain images.
Use the Bing license option (US version only) to search for images with creative commons or public domain licenses, but do go to the original webpage and check that the license is indeed associated with the image you want to use. Alternatively use one of the following:
Flickr Creative Commons http://www.flickr.com/creativecommons
Flickr The Commons http://www.flickr.com/commons/
Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/
13. Tineye Multicolr http://labs.tineye.com/multicolr/.
“Search 10 million Creative commons Flickr images by colour.” You can specify more than one colour and move the the dividing bar between two colours to increase/decrease their prominence within the image. Click through to the original Flickr image to double check the license.
14. Company Check http://www.companycheck.co.uk/
Company Check repackages Companies House data and provides 5 years of accounts, and graphs for some financials free of charge. It also lists the directors of a company. Click on a director’s name and you can view other current and past directorships for that person. It provides more free information than Companies House but you have to register (free) to gain full access. Additional information such as credit risk, CCJs, credit reports, and many Companies House documents are priced or available as part of a subscription.
15. Guardian Data Store http://www.guardian.co.uk/data/
For datasets and visualisations relating to stories currently in the news. As well as the graphs and interactive maps the source of the data is always given and there are links to the original datasets that are used in the articles.
16. Zanran http://zanran.com/
This is a search tool for searching information contained in charts, graphs and tables of data and within formatted documents such as PDFs, Excel spreadsheets and images. Enter your search terms and optionally limit your search by date and/or format type. One delegate said “It has changed my life!”. (We think/hope she meant her working life.)
17. Keep up to date.
Keep up to date with what the search engines are up to, changes to key resources and new sites. Identify blogs and commentators that are relevant to your research interests and subject areas, and follow them using RSS or email alerts.
My Twitter feed and other social media this morning is full of posts and updates saying that Getty Images is making all of its images freely available. It is not. Read the “Embedded Viewer” section of its Terms and Conditions at http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/Corporate/Terms.aspx for what you can and cannot do.
They are making a limited selection of images available for “editorial purposes (meaning relating to events that are newsworthy or of public interest).”
“Embedded Getty Images Content may not be used: (a) for any commercial purpose (for example, in advertising, promotions or merchandising) or to suggest endorsement or sponsorship“.
Getty also reserve the right “to place advertisements in the Embedded Viewer or otherwise monetise its use without any compensation to you.”
Ignore these T&Cs at your financial peril!
As for the image associated with this article, it is not from Getty but one of my own. It is a decommissioned composting toilet at Barracks Lane Community Garden, Oxford. Please feel free to use as you wish.
Google has been automatically dropping terms from searches that give few or no results for some time. It now looks as though Bing may be doing the same. Unfortunately I cannot give the details of the search that brought this to light as it was confidential research. In general, though, what we were searching for were announcements or news articles about two companies involved in a particular project. We hadn’t found anything in Google so we tried various alternative search engines including Bing (http://www.bing.com/). The results seemed quite promising until we started looking at the individual pages. None of them had all of our terms. It is possible that the missing terms appeared in links to the pages but the content of the documents suggested that this was unlikely, and there is no reliable free tool that shows you who is linking to a specific page. So it looks as though Bing is now dropping terms in the same way that Google does.
There are two ways to stop Bing doing this. The first is to use the Boolean AND operator between all of your terms. The second is to prefix the term that must be present in a document with ‘inbody:’, for example inbody:aardvark.
Did we find anything that answered our question? No, but sometimes I don’t expect to and it is frustrating when the search engine thinks it knows best and unilaterally decides to rewrite the search strategy.
For a list of all of the Bing advanced search commands go to http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ff795620.aspx
This is a feature which I have been seeing on and off for a few months so I’m not sure if it is one of their experiments or if it is being rolled out gradually. It’s very simple: advertisements that appear at the top of your results lists and in the panel to the right are marked with a little yellow box with ‘Ad’ written inside.
Over the years it has become harder to identify ads at the top of results as the pale pastel backgrounds to them became more subtle. It has been suggested that the more obvious marker is a consequence of discussions between Google and various regulatory authorities.
Several weeks ago I noticed that Google was displaying the terms it had dropped from your search as ‘Missing’. Google started routinely ignoring selected search terms towards the end of 2011 (see http://www.rba.co.uk/wordpress/2011/11/08/dear-google-stop-messing-with-my-search/). Google’s response to the outcry from searchers was to introduce the Verbatim search option. However, there was no way of checking whether all of your terms appeared in a result other than viewing the whole page. Irritating, to say the least, if you found that the top 10 results did not include all of your keywords.
Fast forward to December 2013, and some people started seeing results lists that showed missing keywords as strikethroughs. I saw them for a few days and then, just as I was preparing a blog posting on the feature, they disappeared! I assumed that they were one of Google’s live experiments never to be seen again but it seems they are back. Two people contacted me today to say that they are seeing strikethroughs on missing terms. I ran my test searches again and, yes, I’m seeing them as well.
I ran the original search that prompted my November 2011 article (parrots heron island Caversham UK) and included -site:rba.co.uk in the strategy to exclude my original blog postings. Sure enough, the first two results were missing parrots and had “Missing
parrots” underneath their entry in the list.
Remember, though, that Google automatically looks for variations on your search terms. Your original keyword may not be present in the results but a synonym may be, for example birds instead of parrots. I did find one entry in the top 10 results that seemed out of place. It was an article in the local newspaper. There was no ‘Missing….’ underneath the result but I could not find synonyms of parrots anywhere in the story. The closest was the surname of a person mentioned in the article – Parry – and I can only assume that this was Google truncating my ‘parrots’ keyword and looking for variations. But Parry was not highlighted in the entry in the results list as synonyms are. I shall look at the article in more detail to check that I have not missed a lurking parakeet or cockatoo!
I need to carry out more test searches to see how reliable this new feature is but, nevertheless, it is a welcome and useful addition to Google. If your top 10 results are showing strikethroughs then you know you have to either prefix the missing term with ‘intext:’ or use Verbatim for the whole search.
A couple of weeks ago I was in Exeter and Bristol leading workshops for NHS South West on “Google & Beyond”. We covered advanced Google commands, Google Scholar and alternatives to Google. Below are the combined top tips from the two sessions. I may have missed a couple from the list as I could not read my writing, so if you attended one of the workshops let me know if I’ve omitted your suggested tip.
- Verbatim Yet again, this has topped the list of useful Google search options. Google automatically looks for variations on your search terms and sometimes drops terms from your search without telling or asking you. To make Google run your search exactly as you have typed it in, first run your search. Then click on ‘Search tools’ in the menu above your results, in the second line of options that appears click on ‘All results’ and from the drop down menu select Verbatim.
- Be aware of personalisation. Even if you are not signed in to a Google account Google personalises your results according to your search and browsing behaviour. Personalisation is not necessarily a bad thing but if your want to burst out of the filter bubble, as it is often called, use a private browser window or incognito (Chrome). Google will then ignore tracking and search cookies on your machine and will not personalise your results. To call up a private browser or incognito window use the following keys:
Chrome – Ctrl+Shift+N
FireFox – Ctrl+Shift+P
Internet Explorer – Ctrl+Shift+P
- site: Use the site: command to focus your search on particular types of site, for example site:nhs.uk, or to search inside a large, rambling site. You can also use -site: to exclude sites from your search.
- intext: Google’s automatic synonym search can be helpful when looking for alternative terms, but if you want a term to be included in your search exactly as you have typed it then prefix the word with
- filetype: Use the filetype: command to limit your research to PowerPoint for presentations, spreadsheets for data and statistics or PDF for research papers and industry/government reports. Note that in Google filetype:ppt and filetype:xls will not pick up the newer .pptx and xlsx formats so you will need to include those in your strategy, for example filetype:ppt OR filetype:pptx, or run separate searches for each one. In Bing.com, though, filetype:pptx will pick up both .ppt and .pptx files.
- Advanced search commands and search options Learn how to use the search commands (for example
site:). Many of these can be used on the advanced search screen that can usually be found under the cog wheel in the upper right hand area of the screen, but that link sometimes disappears so learning the commands is a better bet. A list of the more useful Google commands is at http://www.rba.co.uk/search/SelectedGoogleCommands.shtml.
- Combine advanced search commands. Practise combining the advanced search commands for a more precise, focused set of results.
- Google Reading level. This changes the type of results that you see. 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.
- Numeric range. This command is unique to Google. Use it for anything to do with numbers – years, temperatures, weights, distances, prices etc. Simply type in your two numbers separated by two full stops as part of your search. This is a good way of limiting your search, for example, to forecasts over the few years.
- Limiting your search by date. To limit your search by date, for example the last month or year, first run your search. Then click on ‘Search tools’ in the menu above the results and from the second row of options that appears click on ‘Any time’. Select your time period or a custom range from the drop down menu.
- Use the minus sign to exclude documents containing a word. If you do not want documents containing a specific word prefix that word term with a minus sign. The minus sign can also be used with commands such as site: and filetype: to remove an individual site or type of document from your results.
- Million Short http://millionshort.com/. If you are fed up with seeing the same results from Google again and again give Million Short a try. Million Short runs your search and you can choose to remove the most popular web sites from the results. Originally, as its name suggests, it automatically removed the top 1 million but now you can choose to remove the most popular 100, 1000, 10k, 100k or million sites. The page that best answers your question might not be well optimised for search engines or might cover a topic that is so “niche” that it never makes it into the top results in Google or Bing.
- Creative commons searches for images. Rather than search for images and go through them individually to find one that you can legally use in your document or presentation, use advanced search options or tools that allow you to select the appropriate license from the start. In Google, use the usage rights menu on the image advanced search screen to search for images with the license you need. The US version of Bing images includes a license option in the menu at the top of your results.
Double check the license of the photo on the website or blog hosting it. The license you need may be associated with a different image and yours could, for example, be ‘all rights reserved’.Flickr has a page where you can search for images with a specific Creative Commons license at http://www.flickr.com/creativecommons.
- Compare in Google. This is not a Google command but if you type in a search such as
compare carrots with cabbageGoogle will create a table comparing the properties of the two items. Google has been known to get some of the data wrong, though, so it’s worth double checking the figures before you use them.
- Web archives. Want to see what was on a website a few years ago or trying to track down a document that seems to have vanished from the web? Try the Internet Archive Wayback Machine at http://www.archive.org/. Enter the URL of the website or document and you should then see a calendar of the snapshots that the archive has of the site or document. Choose a date from the calendar to view the page. The archive does not have everything but it is worth a try. See also the UK National Archives of old government websites and pages at http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/webarchive/ and the UK Web Archive at http://www.webarchive.org.uk/ukwa/.
- Statistics sites. Although you can often find statistics via Google, you may find dedicated official statistics sites quicker and more reliable. Some of the sites we covered during the workshops were:
NHS Statistics Links http://www.nhs.uk/Pages/LinkListing.aspx?CategoryId=Statistics
UK National Statistics Publication Hub http://www.statistics.gov.uk/
Office for National Statistics http://www.ons.gov.uk/
Welsh Government Statistics http://wales.gov.uk/topics/statistics/
Welsh Assembly Government StatsWales http://statswales.wales.gov.uk/
UK Open data http://data.gov.uk/
European Union Open Data Portal http://open-dat.europa.eu/en/
Last week’s workshop on Google had a wonderful mix of participants from the academic, government, public, NHS and legal sectors. And true to form, Google decided to change a few things on the day. The link to the Google News advanced search completely disappeared (it wasn’t that good anyway!) but now seems to have reappeared. The search options that appear at the top of the results pages had changed compared with screen shots that I had taken 2 days previously; they options now seem to change according to the type of query so we suspect that this is an example of Hummingbird (Google’s new algorithm). The Google custom search engine interface has changed yet again and presented challenges to even those of us who are regular users. And then there was the new Google log-out/log-in interface which had us all flummoxed until the end of the day. (That merits a separate blog rant).
In the time honoured tradition, at the end of the day the group was asked to come up with their top 10 tips for searching Google. Here is what they came up with.
- Verbatim Several people shouted out this one as the number 1 tip for searching Google. Google automatically looks for variations on your search terms and sometimes drops terms from your search without telling or asking you. To make Google run your search exactly as you have typed it in, first run your search. Then click on ‘Search tools’ in the menu above your results, in the second line of options that appears click on ‘All results’ and from the drop down menu select Verbatim.
- site: command Use the site: command to focus your search on particular types of site, for example site:ac.uk, or to search inside a large rambling site. You can also use -site: to exclude sites from your search.
- Advanced search commands and search options Learn how to use the search commands (for example
site:), Many of these can be used on the advanced search screen that can usually be found under the cog wheel in the upper right hand area of the screen, but that link sometimes disappears so learning the commands is a better bet. A list of the more useful Google commands is at http://www.rba.co.uk/search/SelectedGoogleCommands.shtml
- intext: Google’s automatic synonym search can be helpful in looking for alternative terms but if you want a term to be included in your search exactly as you have typed it in then prefix the word with
- Country versions of Google. The country versions of Google give priority to the country’s local content, although it might be in the local language. This is a useful strategy when searching for industries, companies and people that are active in a particular country. Use Google followed by the standard ISO two letter country code, for example http://www.google.de/ for Google Germany, http://www.google.no/ for Google Norway.
- Google.com Apart from presenting your search results in a different order Google.com is where Google launches new features and search options first. As well as seeing pages that may not be highly ranked in Google.co.uk you will get an idea of how Google search may look in the UK version in the future. It also has some unique search options such as recipes!
- Google Scholar http://scholar.google.com/ Google Scholar collects all the versions of an article under an ‘All versions” link.
- Search by image Click on the camera icon in the image search bar to upload a photo or link to an image on the web. Google will then try and find similar images. There were comments from some of the workshop participants that this does not seem to always work as well as it used to, which reflects my own recent experience of the option. It is still worth a go, though, if you want to find different versions of an image.
- Hummingbird Keep an eye out for new layouts and ways of searching that are now appearing since Hummingbird was launched. For example, you can now compare the properties of two similar items: compare cabbage with spinach will show a table comparing the nutritional value of the two vegetables.
- Google Custom Search Engines (CSE) Several of the participants had a go at setting up their own CSE. Ideal for bringing together websites that you search individually on a regular basis.
Edited highlights of the presentations can be found on authorSTREAM at http://www.authorstream.com/Presentation/karenblakeman-1975041-make-google-behave-techniques-better-search-results/ and http://www.authorstream.com/Presentation/karenblakeman-1975022-google-scholar-citation-indexes/
Just over a year ago Bing launched a website called Bingiton (http://www.bingiton.com/), which enabled you to compare search results from Google and Bing side by side and then decide which set was best. You had to run five searches and then Bingiton told you which search engine you had chosen for each. After a couple of weeks the site was restricted to US users but it has now been relaunched in the UK.
The principle remains the same: you type in five searches, Bingiton displays the two sets of results side by side, and you decide which you prefer or go for the draw option (“can’t decide”).
I ran several batches of searches through Bingiton and Google won 4 of the rounds. The fifth, which consisted of searches for cake and jam recipes, was a draw with me being unable to decide. Two other rounds had to be declared null and void because “Scholarly articles” links (Google Scholar) appeared at the top of one set of results indicating that they were from Google. Another included what was obviously a Google map!
For me Bing seemed to be better at recipes and shopping enquiries than research oriented queries. Google consistently came out on top for local information and current news. Phil Bradley has also blogged about Bingiton (http://philbradley.typepad.com/phil_bradleys_weblog/2013/10/bings-bing-it-on-challenge-returns-to-the-uk.html) and invited people to comment on their own results. It is an interesting mix and Google does not always win or win outright. Take the Bingiton challenge yourself at http://www.bingiton.com/.
If you have a Google+ account you should have received an email from Google with the innocuous subject line “An Update for Google+ Page Owners and Managers”. Don’t ignore it because it contains important information about changes to Google’s terms and conditions that take effect on November 11th, 2013. From that date Google may start using your profile name and photo to endorse ads. Several people have already posted extensively about this so I will not go into much detail here. Tony Hirst has already written an excellent article on this at http://blog.ouseful.info/2013/10/12/googles-new-terms-mean-you-could-soon-been-acting-as-a-product-endorser/, which also addresses other privacy issues and account settings that you may wish to review and change.
If you do not want your photo and name used in advertisements you have to opt out because Google seems to have automatically added everyone to the scheme. Sign in to your Google+ account and go to the settings page. You should see a new option for “Shared endorsements” that is switched on. Click on the Edit link to change it to “Off”. Of course, Google tries to discourage you from doing this by saying that “your friends will be less likely to benefit from your recommendations”.
Click continue to carry on and switch endorsements off.