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Searching made simple

This month GAVIN MOFFAT resumes his regular series on how to make the most of hi-tech tools. In his latest article, he gives us tips on how to properly use search engines.

The World Wide Web is vast, made up of billions of pages of information, some of them useful and relevant to your interests and many of them simply not fit for anyone’s consumption. So how do you find your way around the Web and get to the info that you need quickly and efficiently?

It’s simple – you just need to master your Google-Fu. There is a range of commands and modifiers built into search engines such Google, Yahoo and Bing that will help you to track down the information you need without trawling through a lot of stuff that you’re not interested in.

Phrase searches

By putting double quotes around a set of words, you will instruct the search engine to find all web pages that contain the exact phrase contained between the quotes. For example, typing in “Graeme Smith”” will bring up pages that reference the cricketer. That can help you to search with a great deal of precision for the info you need.

Search within a site

Not every Web site has an accurate, user-friendly search engine, but most Web sites are indexed by Google. If you’re looking for the contact details for the Rosebank, branch of FNB for example, you could ask Google to search your bank’s Web site for the information. Simply type out the text enclosed in the square brackets: [contact details Rosebank Johannesburg site:]

Excluding terms

By putting a minus sign immediately before a word, you can ask the search engine to exclude pages that do not include the term from your search. For example, if you want to find out about ‘world’ and keep getting results that reference world maps, world music, and the World Series, you can enter your search as follows: [world -music -maps -series] (NOTE: no space between the minus and the word it refers to).

Fill in the blanks (*)

The * wildcard tells the search engine to treat the star as a placeholder for any unknown term and then find the best matches. Type in: [Jacob Zuma * speech], for example, and you’ll get results for ‘Jacob Zuma State of the Nation speech’ and ‘Jacob Zuma inauguration speech’, among others.

OR searches

If you want to find out about retail trade shows in 2010 and 2011, you could search for: [retail trade shows 2009 OR 2011]. The OR modifier must be in capital letters). That will give results for both years.

Define terms

Have you come across a piece of jargon you don’t understand? If you want a definition of a word, you can use the define: modifier. For example, if you want to know what a firewall is, you would simply type in the phrase in square brackets: [define: firewall].

Closing words

To get the best search results, be as simple, precise and descriptive as you can when you’re inputting information into the search engine. Focused searches that use the modifiers above can be real time savers and help you to make the very best of what the Internet has to offer you.

* Follow Gavin Moffat on Twitter on @gavinmoffat

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