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|Selecting Search Terms|
The search terms you enter and the order in which you enter them affect both the order and pages that appear in your search results. In the examples below, click on the similar ways of specifying various searches and note how the results differ.
For simplicity sake, this tutorial uses square brackets to denote Google's search box. For example, to search for a cheap hotel in Mykonos, I'll put the words "cheap," "hotel," and "Mykonos" in square brackets, [ cheap hotel Mykonos ], to indicate you should type those three words in Google's search box. You should not type the brackets, although Google will ignore them if you do type them.
Furthermore, in the examples that follow, each set of search terms is linked to the results of a Google search on those terms. So clicking on [ cheap Mykonos hotel ] returns the Google results page for a search on those three words.
Use words likely to appear on the pages you want.
Avoid using a question as a query. For example, the query, [ Does Australia have Target ], instructs Google to find pages containing all the terms. Such a query won't necessarily find pages answering your question. A better query might be [ Australia Target store ].
USE [ Australia
Target store ]
NOT [ Does Australia have Target ]
When Google detects very common words such as where, do, I, for, and a, known as stop words, it ignores them so Google may return relevant results. If you're seeking pages that include a stop word, e.g., "how the west was won," learn how to force Google to search for a complete phrase or a specific word in the section Crafting Your Query.
Avoid using words that you might associate with your topic, but you wouldn't expect to find on the designated page(s). For example, queries that include "articles about," "discussion of," "documentation on," and "pages about" are likely to return fewer results since information on the web is rarely labeled with such terms.
USE [ lasik eye surgery ]
NOT [ documentation on lasik eye surgery ]
USE [ jobs
product marketing Sunnyvale ]
NOT [ listings of product marketing jobs in Sunnyvale ]
Suppose you want to know how old someone is, such as Nelson Mandela (the former President of South Africa). Pages with "birthday" or "age" might be more than a year old. Searching for pages that include "Nelson Mandela" and "born" are likely to include either "Nelson Mandela born" or "Nelson Mandela was born" followed by his birth date. You can figure out his age from knowing when he was born.
USE [ Nelson
Mandela born ]
NOT [ Nelson Mandela birthday ] nor [ Nelson Mandela age ]
Not sure what word or phrase is likely to appear on pages you want? Consider running a word or phrase popularity contest with Google Smackdown, which you can find at www.onfocus.com/googlesmack/down.asp. This third-party application reports which of two terms or phrases Google estimates to be more prevalent on the web (actually on more web pages that Google has included in its index).
Although not as popular according to Google Smackdown, in Google Guide I use "screen shot" because it's in my online dictionary and "screenshot" isn't.
Note: The section How Google Works describes how Google finds web pages and constructs an index.
Be specific: Use more query terms to narrow your results.
It's better to use a more precise, less ambiguous term than a common one to "flesh out the topic by including facets that interest you," notes Ned Fielden in his book Internet Research, Second Edition (McFarland & Company, 2001).
Does your query have enough specific information for Google to determine unambiguously what you're seeking? If your query is too vague, it's unlikely to return relevant results. Consider, for example, the query [ java ]. What do you suppose Google includes in the first page of results? An island in Indonesia? A beverage consisting of an infusion of ground coffee beans? A computer network-oriented platform-independent programming language developed by Sun Microsystems?
USE [ Java Indonesia ],
[ java coffee ], or
programming language ]
NOT [ java ]
How can you come up with more specific search terms? What do you know about the topic? Consider answers to the questions, who?, what?, where?, when?, why?, and how?
When you search for [ Tom Watson ], on the first page of results you may get references to a member of Parliament, the golfer, the IBM executive, and a Populist Party candidate for President in 1900 and 1904. If you're searching for something that could return many different types of results, you should add a term that distinguishes among them. This way you'll get only results about the specific Tom Watson you're interested in.
USE [ Tom
Watson MP ],
Watson golf ], or
Watson IBM ]
NOT [ Tom Watson ]
USE [ baby
development ] or [ baby
NOT [ babies ]
USE [ Betty
Ford Center drug addiction ]
NOT [ Ford Center ]
Note: Google limits queries to 32 words.
USE [ quit smoking program ]
NOT [ program on quitting tobacco cigarette smoking addiction ]
You don't have to correct your spelling.
When you enter: [ Anna Kornikova tennis ]
Google responds: Did you mean: Anna Kournikova tennis
Note: Before clicking on Google's suggested spelling, consider whether it's what you want. Spelling checkers, like people, make mistakes.
For more information on Google's spelling correction system, see the section Spelling Corrections.
Note: Even if you use the search tips described in Google Guide, you won't be able to access authoritative information that's available offline, e.g., old reference books, or is stored in specialized databases. For such information is not currently searchable with Google.
Next we'll look at how Google interprets your query.
For more information on the basics of Google search, visit www.google.com/help/basics.html.
This page was last modified on Thursday October 19, 2006.
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By Nancy Blachman and Jerry Peek who aren't Google employees. For permission to copy
& create derivative works, visit Google Guide's Creative Commons License webpage.