How to get the most out of your search engine

You need information, but you're not sure where to turn. Here's how to maximise your search engine use and get it working for you. 

I am not sure what website I want. I just need information.

The great thing about the internet is that you can find out almost anything—provided you know where to look. And a search engine—a vast electronic index of web pages—is designed to help you do that. You simply type significant words (keywords) into the search box, and the search engine loads a list of sites that may have the information you are searching for.

It ranks them for you, too—with the most likely contenders first. Search engines are continuously updated, to ensure that their listings are current. Most search engines are global companies but because you are most likely to be interested in information from your own region, they offer country-specific search engines—such as google.co.in for India.

 

Choose your search engine

Search engines are a basic tool for any web user. Here is a brief guide to five of the best-known and most useful.

Google

This is by far the most popular search engine—so much so that ‘to google’ has become a common verb. Google offers many types of search: you can choose to search just images, or only shops. It has a predictive text function, meaning that it tries to guess what you are looking for as you type.

Yahoo!

This is good for searching videos online and, like Google, has an image search and other facilities. It also has a tool that allows you to search for businesses in your area. You can customise Yahoo! to show the kinds of news stories that you are likely to be interested in.

Ask.com

This site has a smaller database than other search engines, but offers a different way of searching – once you have typed in your keywords, it suggests popular questions and answers related to your search.

Bing

Microsoft’s search engine. It features a picture of the day (making it a fun choice for your home page). As with Google, you can search for images and you can preview pages by hovering over the results with your mouse.

DuckDuckGo

This search engine is growing in popularity because it is one of the few that does not keep track of data entered by its users. You can choose to view results with Web of Trust ratings activated—this means that results will be colour coded to suggest whether users have rated them safe to click on or not.

 

What are keywords?

They are significant words or phrases that are likely to appear in any article or website containing the information that you want. Say you want to find information on why your heel hurts when you walk—your keywords could be ‘heel pain walking’.

 

Where do I type the keywords?

There are two ways of entering keywords into a search engine:

  • Depending on your browser, you type the keywords or question into the address bar or a separate search bar to the right of it, and press Enter.
  • Alternatively, go to the search engine’s own website, where you will find some useful ways of narrowing or broadening your search.

Once you start typing, some search engines try to anticipate what you are looking for: a list of popular searches will appear below the search box as you start to type. If one of these matches your search, you can click on it rather than continue to type.

 

What about local information? Say I want to find a garden centre near me?

No problem. The web works like a constantly updated directory of local services: you can track down a garden centre, pet shop, carpenter, builder or any other company in an instant. Most businesses now have a website giving details of their services and contact information.

To find the one you want, simply type in the type of company or service—‘garden centre’ or ‘plumbing’ plus the name of your town or area. A list of local suppliers will appear in the results and, depending on the search engine you use, there may also be a map with pointers showing where they are.

 

Can I trust the information I find on the web?

Anyone can produce a website and so the information on any given website is no more or less reliable or rigorous than the person or organisation that created it. It is down to you to assess the trustworthiness of a website—just as you would form an opinion about any person, company or organisation that you have dealings with. It’s all about judgement and common sense.

For our guide to fact finding online click here

 

I don’t know how to assess a website though. What should I look for?

The main thing to consider is who runs it (there should be a 'contacts' or ‘about us’ page that tells you this). If it is a reputable national body, such as a charity or government department, then the information is likely to have been rigorously checked. Commercial websites want to sell you something but some still have good information—they want to appeal to their customers and build a reputation for trustworthiness, after all.

An individual’s website or one that is loaded with advertising is much less likely to be reliable. And anonymous, unreferenced text which has no named writer or organisation behind it—should be viewed with a sceptical eye.

 

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more tech tips

 

Top image: Castleski / Shutterstock.com