How can I improve the use of Google search? | Search engine

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Last week’s column mentioned research skills. I am sometimes on the third page of results before I get to what I was really looking for. I’m sure a few simple tips would find these results on page 1. Any tips are welcome. Michael

Google has achieved its incredible popularity by disqualifying search. As a result, people who were not very good at research – which is almost everyone – could get good results without going into long and complex research. Part of the reason is that Google knew which pages were the most important, based on their Ranking algorithm, and it knew which pages were the most effective because users quickly bounced off websites that didn’t deliver what they wanted.

Google later added personalization based on factors like your location, previous searches, visits to other websites, and other things it knew about you. This has created a backlash from people with privacy concerns as your research into physical and mental health issues, legal and social issues, relationships, etc.

When we talk about avoiding “the scary line”, Former boss of Google Eric Schmidt said: “We don’t need you to type at all. We know where you are. We know where you were. We can more or less know what you are thinking.

Google isn’t there yet, but it wants to keep you from typing. Today, Google does this through a combination of Automatic entry search suggestions, Response boxes, and “People also ask“, which display the related questions as well as their”feature snippets”. As a result, Google is much less likely to achieve its stated goal of sending you to another website. According to Jumpshot’s research, approximately half of browser searches no longer result in a click, and about 6% go to properties owned by Google, such as YouTube and Maps.

You might be upset that Google grabs websites like Wikipedia for information and then keeps their traffic, but that’s the way the world goes. Entering queries in a browser is becoming redundant as more and more people use speech recognition on smartphones or ask the virtual assistant on their smart speakers. Voice queries require direct responses, not link pages.

So I can give you some research tips, but they might not be as useful as they were when I wrote about them in January 2004 – or maybe not for as long.

Advanced search for everyone

Google’s advanced search page is the tool to properly crawl the results. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs / The Guardian

The easiest way to create advanced search queries in Google is to use the form on the Advanced search page, although I suspect very few people do. You can type different words, phrases or numbers that you want to include or exclude in the different boxes. When you run the search, it converts your entry into a single string using search shortcuts such as quotation marks (to search for an exact word or phrase) and minus signs (to exclude words).

You can also use the form to narrow your search to a specific language, region, website or domain, or file type, date of publication, etc. Of course, no one wants to fill out forms. However, using forms will teach you most of the commands mentioned below, and it’s a fallback if you forget any.

Fortunately, many commands work on other search engines as well, so the skills are transferable.

Use quotes

Quotation marks can be a powerful tool for specifying exact search terms.
Quotation marks can be a powerful tool for specifying exact search terms. Photograph: IKEA

If you are looking for something specific, quotes are invaluable. Putting quotes around single words tells the search engine that you want them to appear on every page it finds, rather than using close matches or synonyms. Of course, Google will ignore this, but at least the results page will tell you which word it ignored. You can click on that word to insist, but you will get less or maybe no results.

Enclosing an entire sentence has the same effect and is useful for finding quotes, names of people, book and movie titles, or particular phrases.

You can also use an asterisk as a wildcard to find matching phrases. For example, the Simpsons episode, Deep Space Homer, popularized the phrase, “For my part, I welcome our new insect lords.” The search for “I welcome our new * lords” finds other lords such as aliens, cephalopods, computers, robots and squirrels.

Nowadays, Google RankBrain is good enough at recognizing titles and common phrases without quotes, even if they include “stop words”Like a, at, that, the and this. You don’t need quotes to search for the Force, The Who, or The Smiths.

However, it also uses synonyms rather than strictly following your keywords. It may be faster to use minus signs to exclude words you don’t want than to add terms that are already implied. An example is jaguar-car.

Use site controls

Using the
Using the “site:” command can be a powerful tool in quickly finding a particular website. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs / The Guardian

Google also has a site: command which allows you to limit your search to a particular website or, with a minus sign (-site :), exclude it. This command uses the site’s uniform resource locator or Url.

For example, if you wanted to find something on the Guardian website, you would type site: theguardian.com (no space after the colon) next to your search words.

You may not need to search the entire site. For example, site: theguardian.com/technology/askjack will search for Ask Jack messages that are online, although it does not search for all old texts (continued on p94).

There are several similar commands. For example, inurl: will search for or exclude words that appear in URLs. This is convenient because many sites now pack their URLs with keywords as part of their SEO (search engine optimization). You can also search intitle: to find words in titles.

Web pages can include incidental references to all kinds of things, including index cards for unrelated stories. All of these will show up properly in text searches. But if your search word is part of the URL or the title, it should be one of the main topics of the page.

You can also use the site: and inurl: commands to limit searches to include or exclude entire groups of websites. For example, site: co.uk or inurl: co.uk will search for matching UK websites, although many UK sites now have .com addresses. Likewise, site: ac.uk and inurl: ac.uk will find UK educational institution pages, while inurl: edu and site: edu will find US pages. Using inurl: ac.uk OR inurl: edu (the Boolean command must be in all caps) will find pages of both. Using site: gov.uk you will find UK government websites and inurl: https will search for secure websites. There are many options for inventive researchers.

Google search can also find different types of files, using either the file type: or the extension: (for the file extension). These include office documents (docx, pptx, xlxs, rtf, odt, odp, odx, etc.) and pdf files. The results strongly depend on the subject. For example, a search for picasso filetype: pdf is more productive than a search for stormzy.

Make it an appointment

By refining your search by date, you can find older pieces.
By refining your search by date, you can find older pieces. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs / The Guardian

We often want up-to-date results, especially in technology where things that used to be true are no longer true. After performing a search, you can use Google’s time settings to filter the results or use new search terms. To do this, click on Tools, click on the down arrow next to “Anytime” and use the drop-down menu to choose a period between “Past hour” and “Past year”.

Last week I complained that Google’s “freshness algorithm” could generate a lot of blog spam, burying much more useful hits. Depending on the topic, you can use a custom time range to get less recent, but perhaps more useful results.

Custom time settings are even more useful for finding contemporary event coverage, which can be the public launch of a business, a athletic event, or something else. Human memories are good for rewriting history, but contemporary reports can provide a more accurate picture.

However, custom date ranges have disappeared from the mobile, the date: command no longer seems to work in search fields and the “sort by date” has disappeared except in news searches. Instead, this year, Google introduced before: and after: commands do the same job. For example, you can search for “Apple iPod” before: 2002-05-31 after: 2001-10-15 for a bit of nostalgia. Date formats are very forgiving, so someday we might all prefer it.

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