Search Engines

There are a number of different ways to find web sites but the most common one, where you are looking for information on a given topic rather than looking for the site belonging to a particular company, is to use a search engine. Search engines have automated processes that follow the links between web pages and travel all over the web looking at what all the different pages contain and try to list those pages in such a way that the ones most relevant to particular search terms will be listed at the top.

There are hundreds of different search engines around to choose from but most people end up choosing one of the top three as their preferred way of searching for things. Each of the top three search engines generates its own search results and so the results that each returns for the same search request may not be the same. Some of the smaller search engines may collect some of the information for their results from another search engine rather than doing all the searches themselves and so may produce similar results to whichever search engine supplies them with information.

Since the main search engines generate their results in different ways it may be worthwhile trying the same search in different search engines if the first didn't return what you were looking for. In any case you will want to at least try out all three so as t choose the one which most often finds what you are looking for as the one you will use the most.

Search engines do not list all of the pages on the web in their search results, in fact no search engine even lists one page in five of what exists. Most search engines do not even list one page in ten. Even accounting for those pages listed in one search engine and not in any other search engine four of every five web pages are not listed. In some cases these pages are ones that the page owner doesn't want listed - some will be the pages which many web sites have in support of the site such as privacy policies, disclaimers, contact forms etc which will only be of interest to those who have already found the site. Others will be pages that the owner doesn't want listed for some reason such as pages only intended to be seen by a small group of people. Many of the pages in this "hidden web" will be pages of useful content which for one reason or another the search engines have never found. Just because search engines can't find pages that cover whatever you are looking for doesn't mean that such pages do not exist.

Even where the search engine does have pages listed that cover what you are looking for it doesn't mean that you are necessarily going to get those pages returned at the top of the search results when you make your query. It all depends on how you ask for information as to how likely it is that the top results will contain the information you are looking for. Searching for a single word is unlikely to give meaningful results even though the top entries will probably be relevant. Searching Google for "javascript" returns well over 500 million entries in the results and while the first few thousand of these are certainly about what you searched for the search isn't specific enough. Generally you should enter several words into the search engine in order to get results that are going to have some relevance to what you are actually looking for. Searching for "real estate" will return almost as many results as searching for JavaScript but most of the top results will not be relevant to you because they relate to the wrong area. Even searching for "real estate liverpool" will return lots of entries relating to real estate agents in places which are called Liverpool but which are not the Liverpool you are looking for.

Entering more words into the search makes the search more specific and will reduce the number of entries in the results while hopefully improving the chances that the results are what you are actually looking for. You can always repeat the search removing one or more words if you have managed to make the search so specific that there are no matches found.

Another way of making a search more specific so as to improve the chances that the top results will be what you are looking for is to enter a phrase rather than separate words. Entering "real estate" into the search as just two separate words means that the search engine will look for the two words separately and will return results referencing both "real" and "estate" separately where those references may have nothing whatever to do with property' If you put quotes around the words then most search engines (and certainly the bigger ones) will consider everything in the quotes to be a phrase that is to be searched for as a single term and so separate references to the individual words will be ignored in compiling the results. Entering a phrase surrounded by quotes also allows you to include the really common words such as "a", "the", "and" etc. which would otherwise be ignored by the search engine since they are so common that almost every page on the web would be in the results if they were included. If you want to find out what a specific computer error message means then typing it into the search engine within quotes should give you a list of pages that describe the error and how to fix it.

If you examine the search engine page for entering your search query you should see a link there labelled "advanced search". This takes you to another page that allows you to specify all sorts of things to help make your search queries even more specific such as limiting the search to a specific site and excluding pages that reference certain terms from the results. These advanced options may help you to narrow down the results so as to get to what you are looking for when the words or phrases you are searching have several different meanings.

Learning what options are available in the search engines for making your search requests more specific will make it quicker and easier to find exactly what you are looking for.


This article written by Stephen Chapman, Felgall Pty Ltd.

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