Search Engines
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Effective use of Search Engines on the Web

Using a search engine effectively requires more than simply typing in a word or two and having the right sites pop up. A simple keyword search could turn up more than 500,000 matches. Each search engine has its own set of procedures for narrowing down searches, so only the most relevant sites appear in the search results.

The Options

Whether you are looking for a particular company's web site or just a general topic, search engines are the quickest way to find what you are looking for on the Web. Search engines send out automated programs, often called spiders or worms, that search out Internet sites. The information these programs bring back is then sorted and indexed and put into a database that can be searched using keywords.

If you know the name of the product or company you are looking for, type it in the Search box and select search. The engine will search all its registered Web sites and return a result list of matches and the Universal Resource Locator (URL, or Web address) of all Web sites that include one or more of the designated keywords. The problem with such broad searches is that the search engine could turn up hundreds of thousands of Web site matches, and many of those may have nothing to do with what you are looking for.

You can narrow down your search to only the most relevant Web sites by using operators, or modifiers in an advanced search. The operators tell the search engine to include or exclude certain words. For example, you may add the Boolean operator AND to a search for athletic AND equipment, and the engine will return only Web site titles that include both words. Symbolic operators, such as the plus (+) or minus (-) sign work much the same way. We'll talk more about the operators for each of the major search engines later.

The results list, or hit list, will be returned in the order of most to least relevant. However, the relevancy will be different depending on which search engine you use because each search engine uses a different way of determining relevance.

If you have a specific topic in mind, it may be worth your while to start narrowing your search by searching only in a Web directory. The best place to look for general Web directories is at the home page of major search engines. Many Web directories will have review of the sites included, so be sure to take advantage of them. Each search engine sets up its own Web directory a little differently, so it's a good idea to find one you like and stick with it.

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