Search engines have changed considerably over the years, as any parent who ever searched for “farm animals” for a 3rd grade report in the ’90s can attest. Nothing was worksafe, and porn results ruled every search, making a serious change necessary. Today, Google’s search engine is extremely sophisticated, but to find what you’re looking for quickly and efficiently, it helps to learn some tips and tricks of basic Google Fu.
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Search engines ignore punctuation and filter words like “the” and “is,” so phrasing your search in the form of a question or a sentence does not help. To save time and improve your results, use the fewest number of words to describe what you’re looking for. If you’re shopping, [compare upright vacuums] is a more precise and effective search phrase than [what’s the best upright vacuum on the market?]
If you’re searching for something specific, put quotes around it, but only if you know the exact words. While results for “‘scuse me while I kiss this guy” might be amusing, they may not be what you’re looking for. Remember to close the quotes, otherwise it won’t work.
Narrow your search by adding a search operator. Some examples:
- Search for a filetype: [productivity filetype:pps] – finds PowerPoint presentations about productivity.
- Search a specific web site: [free virus protection site:cnet.com] searches Cnet.com for free antivirus software. This also works for a type of site. To find a reference on plants at an educational site, like a college or school, use [plants site:edu] and you’ll get links to horticultural information from dozens of colleges.
- Exclude words: This comes in handy when you search for a word that’s also the name of a major corporation or brand. If you search for “fox” you get, predictably, several pages of Fox Media. But if you modify your search by excluding associated words, you get much different results. You can enter multiple exclusions at the same time. [Fox -media] will filter out some results; [fox -media -news] will filter out a great deal more.
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You can turn up the Google Fu by going to specific search pages, where results are filtered by subject. If you’re looking for news, try searching Google news; for scholarly articles or legal documents, use Google scholar; and to find a video, try Google video.
If you really want to narrow a search down to find something obscure, Google offers plenty of advanced options: include and exclude words, search within a date or number range, a specific region, language, or website. You also have the option to look for pages recently updated in increments up to the past year, which is great for finding news about something that happened yesterday, last month, or six months ago.
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Developing the skills to be a Google Fu master is a win-win situation. You’ll appreciate the beauty of eliminating wasted time while enhancing productivity plus you’ll find what you need with blazing speed and accuracy. As Scrooge McDuck was fond of saying, “Work smarter, not harder.”