By: Phil Shortell
Just about everyone who takes an internet class here at Computer Corner sooner or later gets around to making the statement/asking the question “What good is a search engine if it comes back giving me too many sites for me to wade through”? This leads me to ask them what they are looking for and how they enter their query. I usually find that there being buried by the hits because they have never been told about the way ALL search engines work. Within a few short minutes, they get the answer and now you get it too.
The example I use in class came right from one of my students. Her son needed to do a paper on Daniel Boone, but when she typed in Daniel Boone they got 378,090 hits (That is the actual number, you may get something different depending on which search engine you use) the problem is that a search for Daniel Boone scores a match with sites for Daniel Boone, Daniel Defoe, Daniel in the lion’s den. Pat Boone, Debbie Boone, and Kim Kardashian! OK I just through Kim in to see if you were paying attention. But all the others are absolutely true. When you want an exact phrase such as “indian jewelry” or “daniel boone” or “cuban black bean soup” you should enclose the phrase in “quotes” AND yes, all lower case is best.
Now, if you want more than one argument in your search, the plot thickens. As an example, if you want to find a biography of Daniel Boone, it would seem logical to type in “daniel boone” biography. Doing this may actually result in over one million matches because it’s now going to find the Daniel Boone Motel in Paducah Kentucky AND the biographies of Albert Einstein, Thomas Jefferson and Kim Kardashian (and yes, there are multiple web site having a biography of Ms. Kardashian) What you need to do here is tell the search engine that BOTH arguments MUST be present to score a hit. You do that simply by placing a + (plus sign) in front of each word/phrase. i.e. +”daniel boone” +biography.
Now, sometimes you might want to say to the search engine that you do NOT want sites containing certain words or phrases. You accomplish this by preceding the abjured phrase with a – (minus sign). In attempting to avoid certain sites that shall not be discussed here, you might want to construct your search like this +”daniel boone” +biography -“XXX”.
I am the principal cook in our household and as such, from time to time I find the need to search the web for a recipe or two. My chef life here is complicated by the fact that my wife is an especially picky eater. She hates the taste of ham, is a teetotaler and she would sooner volunteer as a knife thrower’s assistant than eat any food that wasn’t fat free. That brings me to what may be the ultimate demonstration of giving a search engine the information it needs to fulfill a request. A while back, I wanted to get a recipe for (as mentioned above) cuban black bean soup. You give this a try and see what happens. Type in cuban black bean soup recipe (Yes I know I just ranted on above about NOT doing things that way, but you need a starting point to make a valid comparison don’t you?). Note the number of hits you get. Now type in exactly what follows:
+”cuban black bean soup” +recipe –ham –bacon –rum +”fat free”
Note the difference.
It might also be a good idea “just in case” to end your search argument with -“kim kardashian”.