Post History:

Animals Matter to Me

Using Google Effectively

It was suggested to me that I should share my thoughts on how I search effectively using Google. This turned out to be harder than I expected since I haven’t spent much time thinking about what I do, I’ve just been doing it. I will probably add more posts on this subject as I realize things I’ve omitted.

The key to finding things quickly with Google is to start with a half decent query and then refine it, possibly many times. Google provides some simple but important ways of searching and taking advantage of them all is important.

A good result rarely appears after the second page of results

If you don’t find what you are looking for early in the results, you need to refine your query. My first step for doing so is just adding another term. As a simple example, if I’m searching for something related to “Rails” and starting getting train references, sticking “Ruby” at the end of the query will usually solve that. As I look at result pages I try to find other terms which might be helpful in further narrowing down the results.

Try to imagine context

It can be difficult, but the better you can determine context from the two line page snippet that Google provides, the fewer irrelevant links you’ll need to click on. I scan the page titles first, then read the page snippets for the ones that sound relevant and click on the most promising one.

Put exact phrases in double quotes

Phrases in double quotes will be matched exactly, whereas an unquoted list of words will be matched anywhere in a page. This is especially useful for matching error messages exactly and eliminating pages which have partial matches but not exact ones.

Exclude things standing in your way

If you are seeing results about something unrelated to what you are searching for, clearing them out of the way might uncover what you really want. Do this by excluding search terms with a minus in front of them. Usually explicitly excluding one general, but irrelevant, term that you are seeing will remove many of those bad results and give you something new.

Let Google teach you

The Advanced Search page has a great feature that, like many things Google, stands out as being different. Like typical advanced search pages, it helps you build a query based on the different options available. The unique part is that it shows you the search query it is building at the top of the page, so that you can learn how to perform a similar search in the future from the Google main page, or your browser’s search box. Learning the various operators available to you is important as well.

Refine many times if necessary

I might change my search query five times or more while looking for something specific. I think that quickly evaluating the quality of what is returned and adjusting accordingly is my best strategy for tracking down exactly what I want.

I rarely give up on a search without finding something useful, so hopefully these suggestions will help others improve their searches. Please share any tips of your own in the comments!

1 comment

Kevin on March 04, 2009 1:21PM

Thanks Jeff, Now I can just remember that you posted on this topic when I can't find that needle in the haystack.

Adding new comments is currently disabled.