Tag Archives: Top 10 Tips

Top ten Google search tips from Oxford

Training room with a view

These Top Ten search tips comes from an advanced workshop I recently ran for a group in Oxford. If this is the first Top Tips that you have read on this blog, a few words of explanation as to how these are generated. These are not my own personal tips but are nominated by people who have attended my full day workshops and tried out the various commands and techniques during the practical sessions.

The participants on this particular workshop were experienced, heavy duty researchers so I was keen to see what they came up with.


1. Verbatim
This is a regular in the Top Ten lists on this blog. It is an essential tool for making Google behave and forcing it to run your search the way you want it run but is well hidden. Google automatically looks for variations on your terms and sometimes drops terms from the search. To make Google carry out 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. This is very useful when searching for an article by title and Google decides to ignore the double quote marks, which it sometimes does if it thinks you don’t have enough results. If you are carrying out in-depth research it is worth using Verbatim even if your “normal” Google results seem to be OK. You may see very different content in your results list.

2. site: search and -site:
Use the site: command to focus your search on particular types of site, for example site:ac.uk for UK academic websites, or to search inside a large rambling site. If you prefer you can use the Advanced search screen at http://www.google.co.uk/advanced_search and fill in the site or domain box. You can also use -site: to exclude sites from your search.

3. 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.

4. Asterisk * betweem terms
Use the asterisk between two words to stand in for 1-5 words. This is useful if you want two of your keywords close to one another but suspect that there may often be one or two words separating them. For example solar * panels will find solar photovoltaic panels, solar water heating panels etc.

5. Numeric range search
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. For example to limit your search forecasts covering a future time period.

6. Incognito/private browsing
Even if you are not signed in to a Google account, Google personalises your results according to your search and browsing behaviour using the cookies that are stored on your computer. If you 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. 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

7. Public Data explorer
The Public Data Explorer is one of Google’s best kept secrets. It can be found at http://www.google.com/publicdata/ and allows you to search open data sets from organisations such as the IMF, OECD, IM,  Eurostat and the World Bank. You can compare the data in a number of ways and there are several charting options.

8. Repeat search terms
If you are fed up with seeing the same results for a search repeat your main search term or terms. This often changes the emphasis of your search and the order in which the results appear.

9.Change order of terms
Changing the order in which you type in your search terms can change the order of your results. The pages that contain the terms in the order you specified in your search are usually given a higher weighting. This is another useful tip for when you are stuck in a search rut and are seeing the same results over and over again.

10. Different country versions
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 research groups, companies and people that are active in a specific country. Use the standard ISO two letter country code, for example http://www.google.fr/ for Google France, http://www.google.it/ for Google Italy. It is also worth trying your search in Google.com. Your results may be more international or US focused and Google usually rolls out new search features in Google.com before launching in other country versions. If Google insists on redirecting you to your own local country version, go to the bottom right hand corner of the Google home page and you should see a link to Google.com.

Google workshop – top tips

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Advanced search commands and search options Learn how to use the search commands (for example intext:, filetype: and 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
  4. 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 intext:.
  5. 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.
  6. 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!
  7. Google Scholar http://scholar.google.com/ Google Scholar collects all the versions of an article under an ‘All versions” link.

    All Versions in Scholar
    Click on the link to see the full list, which might include free or open access copies of the paper.

  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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/

Business Information: Top Ten Tips from Bristol

The University of the West of England (UWE) hosted the UKeiG 8th September workshop on business information. The list of participants included people from academic libraries, public libraries, the legal sector and freelance researchers. The day got off to an interesting start with one of the participants telling me that a colleague of theirs thought there wasn’t any quality business information on the web! I hope I proved them wrong. Some of the materials provided on the day can be found on my web site at http://www.rba.co.uk/bi/. Please note that SocialMention, which is mentioned in the latter part of the PowerPoint presentation, has been down for nearly five days and we have to assume that it is “no more”. [Update 10th September: after nearly a week offline SocialMention is now back online].

Those of you who have attended my Google, general search or business information workshops will know that towards the end of the afternoon I always ask the group to come up with a list of top ten tips. These can be useful sites that they have discovered during the day, essential services that they already use or commands that help focus the search. A combined list of tips from previous business information workshops is at http://www.rba.co.uk/bi/TopBusInfoSearchTips.pdf. Below, in no particular order, are the new tips from the 8th September workshop.

Top Business Search Tips UWE

1. Biznar http://www.biznar.com/ Biznar is a federated search engine that runs your search in real-time in about 80 resources. There is a list on the Advanced Search screen where you can deselect individual or groups of resources. Many of the workshop participants de-selected Google Groups, which seemed to their dominate results, and some went as far as to exclude the whole Blogs and Social Networks group. The results are combined into a single list and on the left hand side of the scree are organised into folders such as Topics, Authors, Publications, Publishers and Dates. These are computer generated but can help you narrow down your search.

2. Export.gov http://export.gov/“Helping U.S. companies export”. Information on markets and doing business outside of the US. As the strap line of the web site suggest this is aimed at US companies but the reports contain information that is relevant to anyone looking at external markets.

3. Guardian Data Store http://www.guardian.co.uk/data Visualizations and mashups of data relating to major stories in the news. Links to the original datasets are provided so that you can download the raw data.

4. Company Check http://www.companycheck.co.uk/and Company Director Check http://company-director-check.co.uk/. Both services use Companies House data. Company Check provides 6 years of figures and graphs for Cash at Bank, Net Worth, Total Liabilities and Total Current Liabilities free of charge and lists the directors of a company. Click on a director’s name and you are taken to the Company Directory Check – launched last week – where you can view other current and past directorships for that person.

5. Companies House http://www.companieshouse.gov.uk/. The official registry for UK companies. Services such as Company Check and Bizzy (http://bizzy.co.uk/) may provide more information free of charge but it is always worth double checking with Companies House to see if there is more up to date information. The list of documents available for a company in combination with the free services may be enough for you to make a decision on whether or not to do business with that company. Use the free WebCHeck service to locate the company in the register and then click on “Order information for this company”. You will then see a list of available documents: titles such as “Struck off and dissolved” followed by “Application for administrative restoration” might suggest that you should run a mile!

6. Zanran http://zanran.com/ This was recommended for identifying charts, graphs and tables of data in PDFs and Excel spreadsheets. Run your search and Zanran comes up with PDF and spreadsheet files that match your criteria. Hover over the file icon in your results list and you will see a preview of the page that contains your data. We did come across a few oddities: my test search on gin vodka sales uk came up with the bar menu for the Time & Space Restaurant at the Royal Institution of Great Britain. The Zanran “About us” page tells you more about what they do (http://zanran.com/help/about_us)

7. Applegate directories http://www.applegate.co.uk/ A collection of business directories for electronics, engineering, plastics, rubber, chemical, oil, gas and recruitment services covering the UK. Recommended for generating lists of companies by location.

8. Kompass http://www.kompass.com/. Well established directory with world-wide coverage (some of us can remember the black, hard copy volumes!) Search is free and some results are free. Pay as you go options are reasonably priced and there is extensive country and industry coverage.

9. Public libraries’ databases and resources. A reminder from the public libraries contingent that you can access their resources free of charge for personal use from your desktop using the identification on your library card, for example NewsUK and the The Times Digital Archive. Some library authorities also provide access to business databases.

10. Google Advanced Search Use the advanced search screen or commands to help focus your search on statistics and market research. For example use the ‘filetype:’ command to search for spreadsheets containing statistics or PDFs of industry/government reports. Use ‘site:” to focus your search on academic or government sources, for example site:ac.uk.


Another workshop – another Top 10 Search Tips

The participants at the latest advanced search workshop were all from the public sector and had very strong views on some of the new developments in search. They were definitely not impressed by Google automatically enabling web history with a view to “personalizing” search results. (See Your Google results are about to get weirder
http://www.rba.co.uk/wordpress/2009/12/17/your-google-results-are-about-to-get-weirder/). (The workshop participants  are switching off Web History as soon as they get back to the office!) There were several sites and search features, though, that did impress them. This is their list of Top 10 Search Tips.

1. The Google Wonderwheel was the clear winner of the day with this group. When your results page appear on screen, click on “Show options” just above the results and to the left of the screen. Then select Wonderwheel from the list on the left of the page. (For further details see Google new search and display options

2. Google’s Timeline was a close second in the popularity stakes. This is also under Show options in Google when you do a default web search and is also available in Google News. It shows the distribution of your articles over time and gives you an idea of when something started to become a “hot topic” and how a story has developed over time. It is not 100% accurate but is good enough to give you an overall picture of how interest in a subject has waxed and waned.

3. LGSearch http://lgsearch.net/ They liked this one a lot! This a Google Custom Search Engine (CSE) set up by Dave Briggs (http://davepress.net/) that searches UK public sector web sites in one go. On the results page you can, if you wish, narrow down your search further to Local Government, Central Government, Health, Police & Fire, LG Related or Social Media.

4. Slideshare http://www.slideshare.net/. A site used by many people and organisations to provide access to PowerPoint presentations. Search for presentations on any topic or by a specific person then view online or download the original if the author permits. Once you have selected a relevant presentation Slideshare also shows you a list of other presentations containing similar content. No registration required if you just want to search.

5. Try something else other than Google. As well as giving Yahoo or Bing a go, try and think about the type of information you are looking for: news, video, statistics, what people are talking about. Then use the appropriate search tool for that type of information.

6. Twitter search http://search.twitter.com/ You may not want to indulge in Twitter yourself but it can give you an idea of what people are saying about a topic. It is also an essential part of reputation monitoring and competitive intelligence: what are people saying about you or your products and services? You do not have to have a Twitter account to search Twitter, just go to search.twitter.com.

7. Google Blogsearch (http://blogsearch.google.com/) and Blogpulse (http://www.blogpulse.com/) Blogs are another useful source of views and opinions on every topic imaginable. Blogpulse has a “trend this” option on the results page that displays a graph showing you how many blog posts mention your search terms over time.

8. Zuula.com (http://www.zuula.com/) for quick and easy access to a wide range of search tools covering different types of information. Enter your search once, click on the tab for the type of resource (video, images, reference, news), and then work your way through the list of search engines.

9. Google Custom Search Engines (CSE). We looked at several Google CSEs, LGsearch.net and Directionlessgov (http://directionlessgov.com) being just two of them. You can, though, set up your own CSE at http://www.google.com/cse/. Useful if you search the same web sites day after day. You will need a Google account or Gmail account to set up a CSE but you can host your CSE on your own web site or on Google. CSEs can be made public or kept private.

10. University of Auckland Official Statistics (OFFSTATS)  http://www.offstats.auckland.ac.nz/ This set of web pages provides information on Official Statistics on the Web and is an excellent starting point for official statistics by country and subject/industry.

Top Business Research Tips

Yes, I’m sorry, this is another Top !0 list from one of my workshops – a full day in-house session on Business Research. This time around Marketingfile.com  made a return to the list at number 4 after a long absence, three of Alacra sites are at number 2 (nominated by participants as “All the Alacra sites”), and Twitter is at long last being considered as a serious business tool (Yay!!). It is worth noting that this group were interested in Second Life; some of their contacts and clients are involved with Second Life so it would have been useful to have a look at how it works . As usual, though,  we could not connect to SL. It appeared that the ports used by SL were blocked by the by the organisation’s network.

Here is the full list:

1. Internet Archive or Wayback machine at http://www.archive.org/.  For pages, sites and documents that have disappeared. Ideal for tracking down lost documents and seeing how organisations presented themselves on the Web in the past.

2. “All the Alacra sites”.  Not strictly accurate in that it was just three of their business web sites that attracted attention:

Alacrawiki at http://www.alacrawiki.com/. The Alacra Spotlights section is a good starting point for evaluated sites and information on industry sectors. Note that although it is a wiki only Alacra can edit these pages.

Alacrasearch at  http://www.alacra.com/alacrasearch/. A Google custom search engine that focuses on business sites selected by Alacra.

AlacraStore at http://www.alacrastore.com/.  “Search over 70 million reports on more than 550,000 public companies and private companies from over 55 premium business information publishers.” Search for free and pay as you go on your credit/debit card.  A full lost of their content providers is at http://www.alacrastore.com/search-by/publisher.

3. Advanced Search. The advanced search screens of the likes of Google and Yahoo have many options for increasing the precision of your your search: file format (e.g. xls for data and statistics, ppt for expert presentations, pdf for industry or government reports); site and domain search to limit your search to just one web site or a type of organisation (e.g. UK government, US academic); and in Google there is a numeric range search.

4. Marketingfile.com at http://www.marketingfile.com/.  A collection of lists with a bias towards UK and Ireland but there are some International, European and North American lists. The lists are divided into Business and Consumer and further categorised into sectors or type, for example Drinks Trade, Aviation & Defence, Smaller Companies. Each list can be searched by a number of criteria depending on its structure and coverage. Searching is free and data is charged for on a pay per record basis.

5. Freepint at http://www.freepint.co.uk/ Head for the discussion area, labelled as the Bar, where you can post your query and tap into the knowledge of regular ‘tipplers’

6. Trade Association Forum http://www.taforum.org/ . A useful, searchable directory of UK trade associations.

7. Sector Skills Councils. This was not one that I mentioned in the workshop but is a resource that the organisation that I was visiting often uses. According to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sector_Skills_Councils) , and please don’t complain that I am citing it:

“Sector Skills Councils (SSCs) are state-sponsored, employer-led organisations that cover specific economic sectors in the United Kingdom. They have four key goals:

  • to reduce skills gaps and shortages
  • to improve productivity
  • to boost the skills of their sector workforces
  • to improve learning supply”

Further information on the Councils can be found at Alliance of Sector Skills Councils,

The workshop participants commented that “some of the councils are better than others”.

8. Google, Yahoo, Live, Exalead, Ask. Let’s admit it – much of the time we head for Google as our first port of call, but it is worth running your search in the other contenders. Results are sorted in a different order and they do have different coverage and search features.

9. Twitter – http://www.twitter.com/. “Looks interesting”. “Need to try it out as a source of information”. “Could be useful as a promotion/communications tool”.

10. RBA Business Sources. http://www.rba.co.uk/sources/. Selected sources of business information organised by type e.g. statistics, share prices, company registers. Yes,  my own site, the basis of the workshop notes, and as one person commented “It is the quickest way to get to all the sites you told us about”!

Top 10 Search Tips from Edinburgh – March 2008

CILIPS organised an advanced search workshop in Edinburgh, which I led. The participants were from a variety of types of organisation including academic, publishers, public sector, health and commercial. At the end of the workshop they compiled a group Top 10 Search Tips. This is their list:

  1. Yahoo! Finance – http://finance.yahoo.co.uk/ for the UK version. Yahoo! Finance gives an overview of quoted companies on the major stock exchanges around the world. Information includes current share price information, downloadable historical share price figures, charts, recent news, company profiles and director dealings.
  2. Make use of the file format search available in Google, Yahoo, Live and Exalead (but not Ask). Use the advanced search screens, the filetype: command in Google, Exalead and Live, or originurlextension: in Yahoo. For example filetype:ppt . Search for ppt or pdf when looking for presentations; PDF for government, official and industry/market reports; xls for spreadsheets containing statistical data; and rss or xml to locate RSS feeds.
  3. Looking for papers by an academic? Find out where they currently work, or have worked in the past, and conduct a site search to see if any of their articles are in an institutional repository.
  4. People are an invaluable source of information and help. Join discussion lists to tap into their knowledge, for example JISCmail at http://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/ has a wide selection of lists covering many different topics.
  5. Use the site or domain search to look for difficult to find information on a particular web site, or to limit your search to types of organisation for example gov.uk for UK government or ac.uk for UK academic pages. Use the advanced search screens of the search engines or the site: command for example site:statistics.gov.uk car ownership.
  6. Make more use of the advanced search screen options including intitle, inurl and search engine specific features. For example Google’s numeric range search and Exalead’s phonetic and approximate spelling options.
  7. Combine commands in the main search box for more complex search strategies, for example: carbon emissions trading ~forecasts site:gov.uk 2012..2015 filetype:xls OR filetype:pdf
  8. Use the link commands to find pages that link to a known page or web site. This usually helps you find pages of similar content and type. Live.com’s link commands have been de-activated but Yahoo’s still work. To find pages that link to a specific page on a site use link: followed by the full URL of the page, for example link:http://www.rba.co.uk/sources/stats.htm . To find pages that link to anywhere on a site use linkdomain: followed by the domain, for example linkdomain:rba.co.uk. Live.com’s linkfromdomain command, which is still working, lists all the external links on a site, for examle linkfromdomain:rba.co.uk
  9. View the search engines’ cached copies of pages to highlight and locate your search terms in long documents.
  10. Try the Wayback Machine at http://www.archive.org/ for lost pages, documents or sites.