Research & the Internet

Primary and Secondary Sources


Website Evaluation

Web Search Strategies in Plain English

How Web Browsers Work

How Google Search Actually Works

There's a lot more going on to find you the information that you are looking for. As a company, Google focuses on three key areas: Search, Ads and Apps. Search is their core technology; ads are their central business proposition; and apps are the umbrella over the web-based software that you can access anywhere, any time. While each of these has a lot of technology under the hood, the basic tenets for Search, Ads and Apps are very simple according to Google. Understand Google and how it work, but remember that Google is NOT all there is!

Tips for Using Google Effectively

1.  Boolean Search

Put OR in all caps actually works. OR is great for finding synonyms and boilerplate language. Typing “Smith denied” OR “Smith claimed” OR “Smith argued” will find more pertinent websites about the controversy involving Smith.

Avoid using NOT if you want to exclude a search term.  Instead, type a minus sign in front of the word. So if you’re visiting Vancouver, but don’t want to visit Whistler, type:
“Vancouver” -Whistler

That will search for the phrase “Vancouver” on web pages that don’t have the word “Whistler”.  NOTE: There’s no space between "Whistler" and the hyphen.

2.  Use Language Tools

Knowing which words to search for means understanding their meaning. Typing define [space] [search term] in Google search will offer dictionary definitions.

What if you know descriptions but not the actual word? Find one of the many reverse dictionaries online. Type the descriptions you know and you’ll get the matching words.

3. Using Quotations

Typing “San Antonio Spurs ” will show you the websites with the phrase “San Antonio Spurs.” If you don’t use the quotes, Google will search for the terms “San,” “Antonio,” and “Spurs” individually and you might miss pages related to the basketball team.

4. Force Google to Include Search Terms

Sometimes Google tries to be helpful and it uses the word it thinks you’re searching for — not the word you’re actually searching for. And sometimes a website in the search results does not include all your search terms.

How do you fix this?

Typing intext:[keyword] might be Google’s least-known search operations.  It forces the search term to be in the body of the website. So if you type:
intext:”Vancouver” intext:Whistler

It forces Google to show results with the phrase “Vancouver” and the word "Whistler". You won’t get results that are missing either search term.

5. "Control F" is Your Friend

Use this keyboard shortcut to find a word or phrase on any web page. It’s faster than reading the whole page for a specific word or phrase.

6. Limit Time Frame

If you only want search results for web pages published in the past week, past month, or some other time frame, you can click on that option on the left-hand side of the search results page under “Show search tools.”

7. Search by Region

If you only want web pages for a particular area, you can search by region on Google’s advanced search page.

8. Restrict Your Search to a Specific Website

The search operator site:[url] restricts your search to that particular website. It’s one of the most useful searches out there. I used this when I worked on a story about racehorse accidents and wanted to search the Texas Racing Commission’s website for any mention of injuries. Typing injuries led me to a little-known state database of accidents that showed how, in a five-year period, 300 horses had died on Texas racetracks.

9. Find Particular Type of File

Typing filetype:[extension] is useful for limiting your search to particular types of files, such as Microsoft PowerPoint presentations, pdf’s, Word documents and just about any other file type you can imagine. Typing filetype:xls in a search will show only spreadsheets. It’s incredibly useful for finding public data. Check this list for file extensions you can search for.

10. Time Travel

Typing cache:[url] or clicking on the cache function in the search results will show you an older version of the website. Handy if the site owner takes something down or edits it because of a brewing controversy.

11. Stay Up to Date

All these search terms work with Google Alerts. Google will email you whenever it crawls new websites containing terms you’re interested in.

12. Search Your Own Browsing History

Visit to search your past searches. Handy if you vaguely remember a search but forgot the details.

13. See What the World Is Searching For

Google Insights shows queries people are doing over time and how they compare.

14. Beyond YouTube

As popular as it is, YouTube is a subset of all the video services indexed by Google. Searching searches every service, not just YouTube.

15. Epic Image Search

Sometimes, you don’t even need to type words to search Google. Upload a picture of an object, place or other type of photograph you want to learn more about, and Google can search for similar images. Google might find a match and it offers relevant search terms for that image. This video walks you though it

16. Public Data Analyzer

Search and analyze public data in interactive charts that you can share online.

17. Try A Diagram Search

If you’re looking for a part of a machine or gadget but don’t know the name of it, try including the term “diagram” in your search. A search for “bicycle diagram” gives you tons of images with parts: