How to effectively use a search engine

By Cody Crawford

Contributing Writer

Do you think Google search is a total waste? Perhaps you sometimes try to search for things using a search engine and never have any luck.  Well, you’re in luck today.  I am a Google search expert, and I’m here to help.  I can’t promise that you’ll find the meaning to life in this article, but I can make you better at searching for it online.

One of the most important things to note about any search engine is that it’s not human.  This may sound obvious, but bear with me.  All search engines work through the use of a computer algorithm.  For those who don’t know, an algorithm is a set of commands that does a specific job.  For a search engine, an algorithm analyzes the words you have typed and tries to give you results that you find useful.  The amount of computer power that goes into a search engine like Google is incredible.  Google can tell you if you’ve misspelled a word, and even direct you to a set of results you didn’t know existed.  But you have to know what to enter to get the search engine working for you!

Google has many tips on their support site for using their immense search engine.  I have outlined some of them here.  This article also contains information from other sources and tips I have learned in my years of Googling.  I have made these tips specific to Google search, but you can probably use them for other search engines, such as Bing or Yahoo.  All search queries are in Courier New.

Tip #1.  All the words you type will be used in the search, and each word narrows the results.  For instance, if you’re looking for an office supply store in Nashville, you may type, What is a good office supply store in Nashville?  Although a basic query such as this will probably land you in the right place, you could have gotten exactly the same results by typing, office supplies Nashville.  When looking for more complex information, it really makes a difference which and how many words you type.

Tip #2.  Searches are not case sensitive.  In other words, capitalization doesn’t matter in search queries.  You could type all natural dog treats or aLl NaTuRaL dOg TrEaTs.  Google doesn’t care.

Tip #3.  Special characters are ignored.  @#$%^&*()=+[]\ and others are ignored in most search queries.  Commonly used words, such as a, the, and in are also ignored, unless the phrase you happen to enter is a popular song, movie, or quotation.  To be or not to be is a good example of an exception to this rule.

Tip #4.  Operators can help narrow your results.  Operators are special characters that Google recognizes and uses to sort the results.  I do not use operators on a regular basis.  But when I need them, they’re extremely handy.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are a few operators and what they mean.

If I put something in quotation marks, Google knows to look specifically for that word or phrase.  Suppose I heard a song on a commercial that I really liked, but I don’t know the name of it, just a few lines.  I can type those lines into Google in quotations.  For instance, so let’s set the world on fire.  This takes me to links to listen to the song We Are Young by Fun, as well as lyrics.  I now also know the name and artist, so I could find more information about the song if I wanted to.  (You remember, this is the song from that weird commercial on the Super Bowl where the car was bungee jumping…)

Another set of useful operators will help you find articles or files, define words, or search a site that doesn’t have a search feature.  The commands are site:, filetype:, intitle:, and define:.  If I want to find a PDF document teaching me about basic antenna theory, I could type into Google, filetype:pdf intitle:basic antenna theory. This will take me to a page of helpful links.  I can define egotistical by typing define:egotistical into Google.  I can search for magging by typing magging. Please note:  Validity has a great search feature, but it’s a few extra clicks away

To leave out a word or words from your search, simply type the minus sign in front of them.  For example:  mens shirts -overstock will take you to a list of men’s shirt links, without any from

Google can do math for you! To perform calculation, use + for plus, – for minus, * for multiplication, / for division, and parentheses to show order of operations.  Google can also do unit conversions.  Just type what you want to convert:  3 pounds to ounces.

Tip #5.  Use phrases or words that might be on the site you want to find.  The Google support page offers an excellent summary of what I mean.  Instead of typing my head hurts, type headache instead, because that’s the word that would most likely show up on a medical help page.

Tip #6.  Control + F.  Have you ever Google searched something, but then couldn’t find it when you clicked on the link? When you navigate to a page that Google claims has your results, hit Control and the F key at the same time (Command + F if you have a Mac).  A search bar will appear at the top of your screen where you can enter words to find on the page.  This will quickly tell you whether the page is helpful or not.

The easiest way to become a Google search pro is to keep trying until you find what you need.  Don’t be discouraged if you don’t immediately find what you want.  Just keep changing the words around until you get some useful results.  There’s no limit to how many times you can search, and Google searches at lightning fast speeds.  Try these tips today!


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