Search Engine Shortcuts

These tips and tricks will help you net the news you need.
by Joni Blecher
Family PC Magazine

September 2000

       The Web is an amazing research tool, but it doesn't come equipped with a personal librarian to help you find what you're looking for. Instead, we're stuck with search engines—powerful, finicky software that scours the Internet and attempts to put us in touch with our heart's desire. The tricky part, of course, is getting search engines to deliver the five sites you want and not the 30,000 sites you don't. Here are some tips that can streamline your next search.

Start Smart and Be Specific
       If you know precisely what you're looking for, you'll save time by being as specific as possible when you type in your search terms. For example: At NorthernLight (, we conducted three separate searches and received the following results: "eagle," 1,491,155 hits; "bald eagle," 76,732 hits; "bald eagle in captivity," 1,574 hits; "bald eagle in captivity in U.S.," 535 hits. It doesn't take an ornithologist to figure out which list is easier to sift through.

10 Most Popular
Search Engines *
  8. (now Ask Jeeves)
  10. (now
     * Source: PC Data

       Additional note:  Most popular doesn't necessarily mean best for all purposes.

       If you're in brainstorming mode and don't really know what you want, you still have options. Check out Search Engine Guide (, for category-specific search engines and directories. Here, we found 18 separate zoology directories, including one devoted to birds. In no time, we were soaring through a variety of pertinent Web pages.

Try These Tricks
Using precise search language doesn't always guarantee a manageable number of returns. The tips below will help you get better results from your searches.

Put a minus (-) sign in front of any word to ensure that this word doesn't appear in any of the results. For instance, if you're doing a school report on the holiday Independence Day, but don't want references to the 1996 movie of the same name, type Independence Day-movie.

Use a plus (+) sign in front of any word that you do want to appear in the results. For sites about America's Independence Day (and not those of other countries), type: Independence Day+America+July 4th.

Adding quotation marks to a search phrase guarantees that the words appear in the precise order indicated. If you type "Declaration of Independence," the search engine will return sites that use the phrase in sequence.

If you get too many returns, try the same search with the letter t and a colon in front of the search terms. This will restrict your search to words that appear in the document title. A search for t:Independence Day America July 4th will point you to pages devoted to the holiday as opposed to sites that make a passing reference to it.

To find sites that include certain words in the URL, simply type URL: before the search terms. Our search for URL:IndependenceDay returned a manageable number of sites.

A wild-card search can deliver variations on a word using an asterisk to replace a character or multiple characters. For example, if you want to find history and historical, type histor* in the search field and you'll get replies for both words.

To find sites that have a certain domain extension (.edu, .com, .net, .gov, .mil) try typing domain:edu (or one of the other extensions) and follow it with the topic you want, such as domain:edu independence + history.

Looking for an image rather than text? You can either type image: before your search terms or visit, a micro-search engine that seeks out only images.  AltaVista also has a specific image-only search at its website.


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last edited, ms  6-07-2002, 10:25 am