Tag Archives: top tips

Top search tips from North Wales

August is usually a quiet month for me with respect to work. Time for a holiday away and then a couple of weeks ambling along the Thames Path or pottering around the garden. This year, though, as soon as I was I back from my travels I was knuckling down and updating my notes for two search workshops in North Wales. Both were for the North Wales Library Partnership (NWLP), the first taking place at Coleg Menai in Bangor and the second at Deeside College. Both venues had excellent training facilities and IT, which meant we could concentrate on getting to grips with what Google is doing with search and experiment with different approaches to making Google do what we want it to do.

At the end of the workshops both groups were asked to come up with a list of  Top 10 Tips. I’ve combined the two lists and removed the duplicates to generate the list of 16 tips below.

  1. Repeat one or more of your search terms one or more times
    Fed up with seeing the same results for your search?  Repeat your main search term or terms to change the order of your results.
  2. Menus on left hand side of Google results pages
    Use the menus on the left hand side of the results page to focus your search and see extra search features. To see all of the options click on the ‘More’ and ‘More search tools’ links. The content of the menus changes with the type of search you are running, for example Image search has a colour option.
  3. Verbatim
    Google automatically looks for variations of your terms and no longer looks for all of your terms in a document. If you want Google to run your search exactly as you have typed it in, click on the ‘More search tools’ options at the bottom of the left hand menu on your results page and then on Verbatim at the bottom of the extended menu that appears.
  4. intext:
    Google’s automatic synonym search can be helpful in looking for alternative terms but if you want just one term to be included in your search exactly as you typed it in then prefix the word with intext:. For example carbon emissions buses intext:biofuels flintshire. The command sometimes has the effect of prioritizing pages where your term is the main focus of the article.
  5. Advanced search screen and search commands
    Use the options on the advanced search screen  or the search commands (for example filetype: and site:) in the standard search box to narrow down your search. A link to the advanced searchscreen can usually be found under the cog wheel in the  upper right hand area of the screen. If you can’t see a cog wheel or the link has disappeared from the menu go to http://www.google.co.uk/advanced_search. A list of the more useful Google commands is at http://www.rba.co.uk/search/SelectedGoogleCommands.shtml
  6. Try something different
    Get a fresh perspective by trying something different. Two most popular during these two workshops seemed to be DuckDuckGo (http://duckduckgo.com/) and Millionshort (http://millionshort.com). Other search engines to try include Bing (http://www.bing.com/) and Blekko (http://blekko.com/).
  7. Use the country versions of Google for information that is country specific
    This will ensure that the country’s local content will be given priority, although it might be in the local language. Useful for companies and people who are based in or especially active in a particular country, or to research holiday destinations. Use Google followed by the standard ISO two letter country code, for example http://www.google.de/ for Google Germany or http://www.google.no/ for Google Norway.
  8.  Filetype to search for document formats or types of information
    For example PowerPoint for experts or presentations, spreadsheets for data and statistics, or PDF for research papers and industry/government reports. Note that filetype:ppt will not pick up the newer .pptx so you will need to include both in your search, for example filetype:ppt OR filetype:pptx. You will also need to look for .xlsx if you are searching for Excel spreadsheets and .docx for Word documents. The Advanced Search screen file type box does not search for the newer Microsoft Office extensions.
  9. Clear cookies
    Even if you are logged out of your Google account when you search, information on your activity is stored in cookies on your computer. These can personalise your results according to your past search and browsing history. Many organisations have set up their IT systems so that these tracking cookies are automatically deleted at least once a day or whenever a person logs in or out of their computer account. At home, your anti-virus/firewall software may perform the same function. If you want to make sure that cookies are deleted or want to control them manually How to delete cookies at http://aboutcookies.org/Default.aspx?page=2 has instructions on how to do this for most browsers.
  10. Looking for research papers? Google Scholar (http://scholar.google.com/) is one place to look but there may be additional material hidden somewhere on an academic institution’s web site. Include advanced search commands, for example filetype:pdf site:ac.uk, in your search.
  11. For the latest news, comments and analysis on what is happening in an industry or research area carry out a  Google blog search and limit your search by date. Simply run your search as usual in the standard Google search box. On the results page click on Blogs in the menu on the left hand side of the screen and then select the appropriate time option.
  12. site: and -site:
    Use the site:command to search within a single site or type of site.For example:2011 carbon emissions public transport site:statistics.gov.uk to search just the UK official statistics web siteasthma prevalence wales site:gov.uk OR site:nhs.ukto search all UK government and NHS web sites

    If you are fed up with a site dominating your results use -site: to exclude it from your search.

    For example:

    Dylan Thomas -site:bbc.co.uk

  13. Reading level – from tourism to research
    Use this to option in the menus on the left had side of your results page to change the type of information. For example run a search on copper mines north wales. Then click on Reading Level in the left hand menus. Selecting “Basic” from the options that appear at the top of the results gives you pages on tourism and holiday attractions. “Advanced” gives you research papers, journal articles and mineral databases. 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 books. It could involve sentence structure, grammar, the length of sentences on a web page, the length of the document, the terminology used and doubtless many other criteria.
  14. Google.com
    Apart from presenting your search results in a different order Google.com is where Google tries out new features. 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.
  15. Numeric range search
    Use this for anything to do with numbers – years, temperatures, weights, distances, prices etc. Use the boxes on the Advanced Search screen or just type in your two numbers separated by two full stops as part of your search.For example:world oil demand forecasts 2015..2030
  16. An understanding of copyright is important if you intend to re-use information found in the web and absolutely essential if you are going to use images. Creative Commons licences clearly state what you can and can’t do with an image but they are not all the same. The list at Creative Commons http://creativecommons.org/licenses/ outlines the terms and conditions. “FAQs – Copyright – University of Reading” at http://www.reading.ac.uk/internal/imps/Copyright/imps_copyrightfaqs.aspx gives some guidance on copyright but if in doubt always ask! An example of what can happen if you get it wrong is demonstrated by “Bloggers Beware: You CAN Get Sued For Using Pics on Your Blog” http://www.roniloren.com/blog/2012/7/20/bloggers-beware-you-can-get-sued-for-using-pics-on-your-blog.html.


Beating Google into submission – top tips

Oh what fun we had beating Google into submission on June 28th! This advanced Google workshop was held at Reading University and covered some of the new goings on at Google (no more ‘ANDing’ for search terms, personalisation of results) as well as the some of the established techniques for making Google behave itself. The following is what the group came up with at the end of the day as their collaborative top tips for persuading Google to run your search the way you want it run.

1. Search settings

Use the search settings to:

  • alter the level of the safe search
  • switch on/off Google Instant. This is the feature that changes and displays results as your type in your search. Some people find it useful whilst others find it extremely irritating. A big disadvantage of it is that it only displays 10 results per page.
  • increase the number of results per page from 10 to up to 100. Since you can no longer guarantee that you will find the most relevant page in the first 10 results this enables you to view more without having to click through to the next page. Google Instant, which allows only 10 results per page, must be switched off.
  • open results in a new browser window or tab. This allows you to view results while leaving your search page intact in a separate tab or window.
  • switch on/off or edit your search history. Search history is used by Google to customise your results and some people prefer to switch it off. It can, though, provide a useful record of the searches you have carried out and the pages that you have visited from that search.

Search settings is hidden under the cog wheel which appears in the upper right hand area of your results page. In some browser versions it appears in the top right hand corner of the Google home page. The Advanced Search screen link is also hidden under the cog wheel.

Search Settings

2. Sign out of all social media and search engine accounts

Both Google and Bing are experimenting with including content from your social media connections in your search results when you are signed in to your networks. For Google, the Google.com version is where it is happening at the moment and it pulls in content from members of your Google+ circles. to see Bing’s new social sidebar, which includes content from Facebook friends and Twitter,  you have to use the US version of Bing.  The Google+ results are intermingled with the main results whereas Bing displays then in a separate sidebar on the right of the results page. For more details see Danny Sullivan’s article Bing Relaunches, Features New Social Sidebar http://searchengineland.com/the-new-bing-microsoft-tries-again-with-search-meets-social-120728

Including posts from your social network friends in your results is not always a bad thing. You may uncover valuable information and gain a different perspective on the subject of your research. There is, though, the issue of privacy. A contact in one of your Google+ circles may have posted a comment and restricted it to a circle of which you happen to be a member, so it is not public. If you want to include the information in a print out or report for a client you will have to seek permission first. Even if you try and anonymise the information there may still be enough clues to identify the source.

3. Check out Google.com as well as Google.co.uk

Apart from presenting your search results in a different order Google.com is where Google tries out new features. As well as seeing pages that may not be highly ranked in Google.co.uk you will get an idea of the future direction of Google search.

4. Limit by date.

Use the date options in the menu on the left hand side of the results page to limit your results to the last day, week, month, year or within a custom date range. This tends to work best with blogs and news sources. With ordinary web pages Google looks at the time stamp that is assigned to a page when it is uploaded, or reloaded, to the web site. This can be very different from the date on which  it was written. If you are looking for recent material it will, though, exclude pages that have been languishing untouched on a web site for years. To see the date option you have to click on the ‘More search tools’ options at the bottom of the menu.

5. Verbatim.

The essential tool for taming Google. Google automatically looks for variations of your terms, which is not always helpful. Prefixing a term with the ‘+’ sign to force an exact match no longer works in web search, but confusingly still does  in Google Scholar, and Google has suggested using double quote marks around terms or phrases instead. This does not always work.  And now Google no longer looks for all of your terms in a document. If you want Google to run your search exactly as you have typed it in, click on the ‘More search tools’ options at the bottom of the left hand menu on your results page and then click on Verbatim at the bottom. Unfortunately, Verbatim does not work with the date options but there is a solution….see number 6 below.

6. Combining with Verbatim with date limits.

There are two ways to do this: the hard way and the easy way.

First of all the hard way. This uses the ‘daterange:’ operator and Julian dates. Daterange does not understand the mm/dd/yyyy or dd/mm/yyyy date formats. You have to convert your dates to Julian date format. This is explained on the Julian Date Converter page at http://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/docs/JulianDate.php and there is a handy tool that will do the date conversion for you. You then copy the Julian date omitting the fraction and paste it into your search. For example if you are looking for  pages mentioning housing benefits Cameron between June 20th and June 26th 2012:

daterange:2456098-2456104 housing benefits Cameron

Once the results are displayed use the Verbatim option to force Google to look for exactly what you’ve asked for.

Now the easy way. There are several tools that will carry out a date limited Google search and one of them can be found at http://gmacker.com/web/content/gDateRange/gdr.htm (many thanks to Richard Clauson who found this for us). Simply fill in the boxes and on the Google results page click on Verbatim at the bottom of the left hand menu.

Why have I detailed the hard way? Because the easy tools may stop working or disappear without trace.

7. Results page sidebar.

Use the sidebar on the left hand side of the results page to focus your search and extra search features. To see all of the options click on the ‘More’ and ‘More search tools’ links. The content of the sidebar changes with the type of search you are running, for example Image search has a colour option.

8. Google Art Project http://www.googleartproject.com/

This is a collaboration between Google and over 150 galleries from across the world.  You can take a virtual tour of a gallery and zoom in on a painting to see the brushstrokes. You can view paintings and drawings by gallery or by artist. Warning: this is highly addictive!

9. Numeric range.

Use this for anything to do with numbers – years, temperatures, weights, distances, prices etc. Use the boxes on the Advanced Search screen or just type in your two numbers separated by two full stops as part of your search. For example:

world oil demand forecasts 2015..2030

10.  Repeat your search terms one or more times. 

Ideal for getting out of a search rut or forcing Google to give you different results. Repeat your main search term or terms to change the order of your results – sometimes radically.

Business Information Workshop – Top Tips

The TFPL business information workshop held on May 17th in London turned out to be quite an intense day with plenty of questions and much discussion between the participants regarding the services and resources they use. When it came to the participants nominating their Top Tips at the end of the day there was a bit of umming and ahhing initially but they soon picked up speed and we ended up with eleven. Here they are.

1. BL BIPC industry Guides The British Library Business Information and IP Centre’s industry guides were very popular. You probably already know about the BL Business Essentials wiki Industries pages (http://bl-business-essentials.wikispaces.com/Industries) but these have now been expanded into a series of 30 PDF guides at http://www.bl.uk/bipc/dbandpubs/Industry%20guides/industry.html highlighting relevant industry directories, databases, publications and websites. One of the participants who had been using the guides since they were launched said that they are regularly updated and everyone was impressed that a named person responsible for the guide is clearly shown on each one.

2.  Zanran  http://zanran.com/ A search tool 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. Very useful if you are looking for industry statistics.

3. Slideshare http://www.slideshare.net/ Looking for a conference presentation, an expert on a particular subject, overview or background on an industry then look in Slideshare. One workshop participant commented that they wished they had known about this a couple of weeks ago.

4.  SCOTBIS  http://scotbis.nls.uk/  A national information service aimed at Scottish businesses and based on the business resources at the National Library of Scotland but, nevertheless, useful information for those of us not based in Scotland. SCOTBIS provides its users with a free enquiry service and also offers fee-based research and other charged services.

5.  Don’t just Google – try other search tools! If you are carrying out a general web search don’t just Google. You may find the information you are looking for more quickly using alternatives such as Bing.com, DuckDuckGo.com, Yandex.com, Blekko.com

6.  Advanced search commands. Familiarise yourself with the advanced search commands, in particular ‘site:’  for searching within a single site and ‘filetype:’. Look for PowerPoints for presentations, spreadsheets for data and statistics, or PDF for research papers and industry/government reports. Note that filetype:ppt will not pick up the newer .pptx so you will need to include both in your search, for example.

filetype:ppt OR filetype:pptx

You will also need to include .xlsx if you are searching for Excel spreadsheets and .docx for Word documents.

7.  BUSLIB-L  – an email based discussion list that addresses all issues relating to the collection, storage, and dissemination of business information regardless of format. To join the list, go to http://list1.ucc.nau.edu/archives/buslib-l.html where there are also searchable archives.

8.  Bureau van Dijk’s M&A Portal http://www.mandaportal.com/ A gateway to news, events, research and analysis on mergers and acquisitions worldwide. Some of the information on the portal home page is free of charge and there is a free search option for tracking down deals and rumours contained in BvD’s Zephyr database. The deals can be sorted by value, date or status. Basic information is free but you can purchase the full details from the Zephyr database using a credit card. The cost of the reports varies depending on the amount and type of information available.

9. Mergers and Acquisitions Review (Thomson Reuters). This was recommended by one of the workshop participants. Free quarterly summaries and reviews of M&A activity, for example http://dmi.thomsonreuters.com/Content/Files/4Q11_MA_Legal_Advisory_Review.pdf and http://dmi.thomsonreuters.com/Content/Files/4Q11_MA_Financial_Advisory_Review.pdf

10. Official Company Registers. A first port of call for many of us when checking up on a company. Most registers’ sites will offer an English language interface for searching but the information is usually in the local language. To locate searchable online official registers try one of the following:




11. ISI Emerging Markets http://www.securities.com/ Provides news, company information, industry reports and M&A from over 100 emerging markets. Much of the content is unique to ISI Emerging Markets. This was another service that was highly recommended by one of the workshop participants.

Top search tips from UKeiG Google workshop

UKeiG organised a workshop on Google, which was held on 8th February 2012 and hosted by Birimngham University. (My slides for the day can be found on authorSTREAM and on Slideshare). Twenty-two people from a variety of backgrounds and sectors attended the event and their combined Top 10 Tips are listed below.

1. An understanding of how Google works and is messing up “improving” search is vital. Minor changes in functionality and ranking algorithms can cause havoc and are impossible to counter unless you know what is going on. Google’s various official blogs are a starting point but they don’t tell you everything. Identify and monitor blogs from searchers and organisations that monitor what Google and other search engines are up to. (A selection are listed on the final slide of the presentation).

2. “Google assumes that all searchers are stupid and don’t know how to search” said one workshop participant! It takes far too many decisions on their behalf: automatically corrects what it thinks are typographical errors, excludes and adds terms to the search without asking, changes results according to past searching behaviour, and gives priority to network connections. To bring Google to heel, learn how to use advanced search commands and the options available in the menus on the left hand side of the results pages.

3. If you have a Google account investigate your Dashboard (http://www.google.com/dashboard/). This contains all of the information you have given Google about yourself plus data that Google has collected from your various accounts such as Gmail and Google Reader. Clear out anything you don’t need or use (you won’t be able to do this for everything) and make sure you are not sharing anything that you want kept private, for example docs and maps.

4. Order matters. Changing the order in which you type in your search terms will 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. Also keep an eye on any oddities when combining advanced search commands. For example the search allintitle:diabetic retinopathy site:ac.uk comes up with sensible results. Switch the order to site:ac.uk allintitle:diabetic retinopathy and Google totally loses the plot.

Site and Allintitle commands combined in the wrong order


5. Be aware that Google no longer searches for all of your terms all of the time. It now does what it calls a ‘soft AND’. See the first comment to my blog posting on this issue at http://www.rba.co.uk/wordpress/2011/11/08/dear-google-stop-messing-with-my-search/#comments. If you want all of your terms to appear in your documents exactly as you typed them in then you have to use….

6. Verbatim. This tells Google to carry out an exact match search. Run your search as normal and then use Verbatim in the menu on the left hand side of your results page. It is normally hidden from view so click on ‘More search tools’ at the bottom of the menu and Verbatim is right at the bottom. It appears that you can use advanced search commands such as filetype:, site:, and the tilde (~) with Verbatim but it cannot be combined with the date options or ‘Pages from the UK’ in the results page menus.

7. Public Data Explorer is one of Google’s many well kept secrets. It can be found at http://www.google.com/publicdata/ and allows you to search data sets from organisations such as the IMF, OECD and World Bank. You can compare the data in various ways and there are several chart options.

8. Google has a habit of hiding and moving links to resources and tools such as the Public data Explorer, Advanced Search and Language Tools. Bookmark them so that you can always find them (unless, of course, Google decides to remove them altogether).

9. Three tools that are intended for people maintaining websites can also be useful to searchers in identifying trends, alternative search terms, and research into key players and competitors in a sector.

Google Trends http://www.google.com/trends/ – can be used to view search trends over time and to compare multiple search terms

Google Trends for Websites http://trends.google.com/websites – looks at search trends for individual websites or you can compare several websites. In addition it shows what people  ‘Also visited’ and ‘Also searched for’.

Google Insights for Search http://www.google.com/insights/search/ – advanced options for identifying search trends including countries and categories.

If you are responsible for content on your web pages these tools can help identify terms that could increase traffic to your site.

10. If you have had enough of Google and do not feel secure with the way it monitors your activity and personalises results 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. Many of the workshop participants had tried Bing but there was little enthusiasm for it. They had found that the results were not as relevant as Google’s and there was concern over Bing’s links with Facebook, personalisation and what it calls “adaptive search”. Google is so often considered the bad guy because of the amount of personal information it gathers but it does at least show users a lot of what has been collected about them. The same cannot be said for Bing.


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.


Five tips on going freelance

Earlier this year I was asked by a magazine for five tips for people considering setting up business and becoming self-employed. As is so often the case the deadline was along the lines of “the next half hour”. What I came up with was off the top of my head. (I don’t know if they were ever used in the final article as I do not subscribe to the publication). I’ve recently had a few people ask me about going freelance so I thought I’d reproduce the tips here. I might have changed a couple of them if I’d had more time to think about it but I’ve left the five as I originally wrote them.

  1. It’s feast or famine. Clients don’t spread their custom neatly throughout the year. They are like buses: you wait for one for ages and then half a dozen come at once! There will be “quiet” periods when you will not be earning (for me they are August, end of December and beginning of January) and times when you have to be here, there and everywhere. Make sure you have a cash buffer or reserves to cover the quiet times so that you can continue to pay the bills.
  2. You can say no. It is tempting to say yes to everything especially as you never really know when the next job or project will be, but be realistic. Can you really travel from Reading to Cardiff to Edinburgh to Huddersfield to Canterbury and then on to Aberystwyth in one week? And if something is outside your main area of expertise think twice about taking it on. It is good to stretch yourself and expand your knowledge and the services that you can offer, but if it is going to be a one-off and take you a week or two to get up to speed – DON’T DO IT!
  3. Be realistic in your estimates of billable work and time and fix your fees accordingly. If you are lucky, you will be working for six months of the year. The rest of the time will be taken up by the “quiet” periods ( see 1 above), travelling, marketing, social media, preparing proposals, keeping yourself up to date, admin, invoicing, chasing payments… you get the idea. Holidays? No holiday pay. Not feeling too good? No sick pay.
  4. Use social media to the full. Get yourself on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Slideshare, Flickr etc. Write a blog. It all takes time to set up and establish a presence but it really is worth it. Google, Bing and Yahoo all include social media in their search results so it makes sense to exploit every opportunity to reach as many people as possible. As well as a marketing tool it is a great way to keep in contact with other self employed people, share experiences and – sometimes – clients.
  5. Don’t be afraid to admit it is not for you. Being self employed does not suit everyone. It can be difficult keeping yourself motivated if you are working on your own and some find it difficult to cope with the uncertain cash flow. If it becomes too stressful, walk away. At least you will have a better idea of what is involved in running a business and, hopefully, appreciate freelancers a little more.

Top Tips from Advanced Internet Search Strategies

Here are the Top Tips from the participants of yesterday’s workshop on advanced search (29th October 2009):

1. Creative Commons and public domain images

When searching for images that you can re-use on your web site, in your report or newsletters you need to be sure of what you can and can’t do with them. Rather than chasing after the “owner” of the image, the following tools only have creative commons or public domain images.

Geograph http://www.geograph.org.uk/ “aims to collect geographically representative photographs and information for every square kilometre of Great Britain and Ireland”.

Flickr Creative Commons http://www.flickr.com/creativecommons/. This page lists the different Creative Commons licenses and enables you to search for images with a particular license.

Morguefile http://www.morguefile.com/ A relatively small collection of images but good quality, high resolution.

Most images on US government web sites are public domain. A few are not but these are clearly labelled with copyright statements. All of NASA’s images are also public domain.

Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/. Be careful with this source. There are disputes over the copyright of some images, notably photographs from the National Portrait Gallery. Before using any images from this site look at the whole of image’s page to see if there could be problems. For example see Charles Abbot, 1st Baron Colchester by John Hoppner.

2. People search tools, for example LinkedIn, 123People.com, Whoozy.com

3. Google Customised Search Engine http://www.google.com/cse/.  Create your own Google search engine that searches only the sites that you specify. 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

4.  “Show options” near the top of Google search results. It is not immediately obvious what it does, but click on it and a range of additional search options appear in a bar on the left hand side. See my blog posting Google new search and display options for further details.

5.Tripleme http://www.tripleme.com/ to display results from Google, Yahoo and Bing side by side. There is also a deduplicate button .

6. Google Squared http://www.google.com/squared/ Described as “fascinating” by one of the participants. This attempts to put information from the pages in your results list into a table. It is by no means perfect but has improved greatly since its introduction. Everyone agreed that it is “one to watch”. For some examples here are a few I prepared earlier: Volcanoes, Ducks and Royal Dutch Shell (to which I have added some competitors). I have left some of the wrong and questionable data in.

7. Geograph http://www.geograh.org.uk/ This was mentioned in number 1 but was singled out as a quick and easy way of finding Creative Commons images of locations, buildings and landmarks in the UK.

8. Blogpulse http://www.blogpulse.com/. Singled out because of the “Trend this” option which displays graphically how often your term or terms have occurred in blog postings over time.

9. Wolframalpha http://www.wolframalpha.com/ Despite my own clearly stated reservations about this tool, it was nominated for mathematical calculations and chemical structures. At least it shows that the participants were of independent mind and not to be swayed by my prejudices!

10. Exalead’s Chromatik, which is part of the Exalead Labs experimental area. This enables you to search image tags by keyword and then select one or more colours that you want as major components of the image. Although Exalead does now have a colour option in its main image search it is not as sophisticated as Chromatik.

Internet and Business Information Search Tips – Manchester, 26th March 2009

Here are the Top 10 tips from the Business and Internet Search workshop I ran for a group at Manchester Public Library on 26th March. They are the tips that the participants themselves suggested at the end of the day.

1. Site search

This one crops up again and again, but so many people have not yet discovered how powerful this command can be. Use the advanced site and domain search to limit your search to just one web site or a type of organisation (e.g. UK government, US academic). It is ideal for searching individual web sites which have diabolical navigation or appalling site search engines, and for searching for types of information, for example site:ac.uk for UK academic research papers on a particular topic. Use the advanced search screen in Google and Yahoo, or the ‘site:’ command as part of your search strategy in the standard search box on Google, Yahoo, Live.com and MSE360.com. For example:

carbon emissions trading site:ac.uk

If you are searching for PowerPoints or PDFs, use both Google and Yahoo. Google indexes the first 101 K of a document whereas Yahoo indexes the first 500 K so the results can be significantly different when it comes to larger files.

2. Filetype search
There are lots of goodies to be found on the advanced search screens of Google and Yahoo. Think about the type of information you are looking for and focus your search by file format. For example statistics and research data are often left in spreadsheet format (xls). If you are looking for an expert on a subject limit your search to PowerPoint (ppt, and also pdf as many presentations are converted into this format before being loaded onto the web).  Industry, market and government reports are often in PDF format.  Yahoo and Google have the more common file formats in a drop menu on their advanced search screens.  If  the one you want is not listed use the filetype: command followed by the file extension as part of your strategy in Google, Live.com and MSE360.com. In Yahoo, use ‘originurlextension: ”

3. TripleMe
Enter your search and TripleMe displays results from Google, Yahoo and Live side by side. The fourth column contains the inevitable ads.

4. Google Finance
http://www.google.co.uk/finance , http://www.google.com/finance
A worthy competitor to Yahoo Finance although it does not have the wide range of stock exchange coverage of Yahoo. It does, though, beat Yahoo when it comes to the share price graphs. The graphs are ‘annotated’ with labels at the appropriate time point and these link to news articles that are listed to the right of the graph. Both offer free, daily historical share prices in figures.

5. PIPL.com and 123 people.com for people search
http://www.pipl.com/ , http://www.123people.com/
As well as web sites, blogs, images and directories PIPL and 123People search social media and networking sites for a person by name.

6. Slideshare
A service that allows presenters to upload PowerPoint presentations  and make them available in various formats. Ideal if you are looking for information or an expert on a topic, a speaker for an event, or just some ideas for your own presentation.

7. Videos
Use services such as YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/) to track down  “how to” videos and news. Also, why not create your own videos to promote your services or business and put them on YouTube?

8. Google CSE
Google Custom Search Engines (Google CSE) at http://www.google.com/coop/cse/
Ideal for building collections of sites that you regularly search, to create a searchable subject list, or to offer your users a more focused search option.

9. SCoRe Search Company Reports
A catalogue of current and historic printed company reports held in UK libraries. The catalogue does not provide links to digitised documents but is a very quick and easy way of identifying libraries that hold hard copy reports. The participating libraries include London Business School, the British Library, Manchester Business School, City Business Library, Guildhall Library, Strathclyde University and the University of Warwick. A full list is available at http://www.score.ac.uk/collections.asp.

10. Bureau van Dijk’s (BvD) “A Taste of Mint”
A free directory from BvD giving basic information on companies world-wide. One experienced researcher at an earlier workshop commented: “It found the company I have been looking for when every other directory failed!”

Top Search Tips – May 2008, Liverpool

UKeiG’s recent Liverpool Internet search workshop was filled to capacity. It was a packed day with a significant amount of new content and plenty of time for participants to try out the tools and techniques for themselves. At the end of the day they were asked to compile a list of their top tips. There were the usual suspects but the Google Custom Search Engine was new. It is the first time that we have covered Google CSE in the workshop and it generated so much interest that UKeiG will be producing a fact sheet on it. The full list of top tips is as follows:

1. Use the ‘site:’ command to search individual web sites that have appalling navigation and useless site search engines.

2. Search for file formats to narrow down and focus your search. For example search for Word documents or PDFs if you are looking for government or industry reports; xls for data and statistics; ppt or pdf for presentations.

3. Try something else other than Google. Have one Google free day or hour a week. Change the home page in your browser if it is set to Google.

4. Use the OR command in combination with the site: command to search more than one site or type of site. For example,

"carbon emissions trading" filetype:ppt site:ac.uk OR site:gov.uk

5. Don’t believe all you see, especially when it comes to people searches and mashups. [Mashups combine information from several different sources to produce a single new resource.]

6. If the information is critical, always cross and double check the accuracy of the information with independent sources.

7. Books are still relevant. For example, if you are new to a subject or industry sector try and find an introductory text that can help you with the terminology. They are also excellent for historical information. As well as Amazon, try Google Books (http://www.google.com/books/) for older texts, and Live Books (http://search.live.com/books/).

8. Use services such as Zuula or Intelways to remind you of the different types of information that are available and their appropriate search engines. Type in your search once and click on the search tools one by one.

9. Build your own Google Custom Search Engine for collections of sites that you regularly search, to create a searchable subject list, or to offer your users a customised, more focused search option.

10. Try good old fashioned Boolean. Yahoo, Exalead and Live support AND, OR, NOT and ‘nested’ searches, but don’t go overboard. Remember to type in the operators as capital letters. otherwise the search engines will ignore them as stop words.

11. Make use of proximity searching.

a) Double quote marks around your search terms to force a phrase search works in all of teh search engines. For example

"carbon emissions trading"

b) In Google, use the asterisk (*) to find your terms separated by one or more terms but close to one another. There is no information in the help files on the maximum separation. Increasing the number of asterisks is not supposed to make a difference but it does and it appears that one asterisk stands in for one word.

c) The Exalead NEAR command finds words within a maximum of 16 terms within each other. You can control the degree of separation by using NEAR/n where ‘n’ is a number specified by you. For example

climate NEAR/3 change

12. Try social bookmarking services to track down other people’s research lists on a subject. For example del.icio.us, Furl, Connotea, Citulike,

13. If you are looking for formatted files search Yahoo as well as Google. One participant tested several searches on both and found that Yahoo consistently came up with more. This could be due to different coverage of the two services but is more likely to be down to the fact that Google indexes the first 100K of a document but Yahoo indexes 500K. [Karen Blakeman comments: also search in Live.com. I recently found two unique documents via Live.com that contained vital information on a company that I was researching].

14. The Internet Archive (Wayback Machine) at http://www.archive.org/ for pages, sites and documents that have disappeared. Ideal for tracking down lost documents, seeing how organisations presented themselves on the Web in the past, and for collecting evidence for a legal case.

15. Partially Answer your question in your search strategy. For example

"A hippopotamus can run at"