Internet search secrets

Our top tips on how to get the best out of internet or intranet search engines and how to understand the mechanics of internet search.

Is there an action in computing right now that's taken for granted more than internet search? That's why the vast majority of users simply head for a Google box, type in their keywords and sit back, expecting the world to be delivered to their screen.

For the most part, that satisfies the majority of the people, the majority of the time. However, search boxes nonetheless contain a vast wealth of added power that many people never think about exploiting. Used properly, these extra tools can save time, and produce more accurate results. And often, it just takes a few extra key presses to get there

Booleans

Let's start with some of the more common, and perhaps well known, of internet search functions. Thus, it make sense to kick off with Boolean parameters, that can easily help home in on a search target.

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We'll assume first off that most people know that putting a search in quotes, for instance, "like this", will search for that exact phrase. But there are further parameters you can then build onto that.

Adding an AND parameter, "like AND this", will again search for the pair of words, but not necessarily in that order. As long as both are present, though, a result will be returned (note that AND must be written entirely in upper case. And' or and' won't do).

An OR operator, meanwhile, can help if you're looking for results based on words that roughly equate to the same thing. "laptop OR notebook", for example, will throw up results containing either of those words.

A further Boolean you can throw in is the NOT parameter, that will specifically remove results that contain a certain word. So, for example, if you were doing a search for Windows, but wanted no mention of Vista, then you'd type "Windows NOT Vista".

What about, too, if you're looking for a pair of words in a given search, but need them to be reasonably close to each other in the returned pages? That's straightforward, too. Try something like "computer NEAR support", which stands a far better chance of returning related results than a straight AND search. It churns out results where the search terms are between 10 and 25 words apart.

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That's just a handful of the Boolean operators available, and these are supported by pretty much all of the search engines. Beyond these, though, there are many other available tools, support for which can vary from search engine to search engine. All of the following comfortably work using Google, though, and can prove useful for the modern day business.

An example? How about finding out what web pages link to a given site? All that takes is the command "link:www.itpro.co.uk" (remove the quote marks for all of these examples, unless otherwise stated), that will deliver a list (note that there's no space between the colon and the start of the web address). It's a fairly crude tool, to be fair. Searching for IT PRO, for instance, will throw up every other Dennis Publishing page that the site is name-checked at the bottom of. But it's still not a tool without its uses.

On the same lines, if it's similarities you're looking for, then try "related:www.itpro.co.uk".

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