04 Search Techniques And Strategies


Everyday we search for information - the latest news, research data, random facts, etc. However, we continually struggle to find what we are looking for and search inefficiently, whether we are aware of it or not.

The goal of today's class was to introduce us to different techniques and strategies to help us use search tools more efficiently.

Search Tools and Operators

Simple Queries versus Phrases

  • The most basic form of a search is a simple query, such as a word or group of words. Simple queries generally lead to an overabundance of irrelevantresults or relevant results hidden among thousands, sometimes millions, of retrieved sites.
  • The first trick to improve our efficiency is to use phrases. Phrases are a combination of words within quotes that instruct search tools to focus on a set of specific words instead of independently searching for a group of words.
    • Simple Query - Cheese, Crackers, Computer, etc
    • Simple Query - Green Bay Packers (searches for Green, Bay, Packers, Green Bay, Bay Packers, Green Packers, and Green Bay Packers
    • Phrase - "Cheese Crackers", "Green Bay Packers"
  • How Google Interprets Queries


  • Operators allow us to take a simple query or a phrase and turn it into an advanced query. The goal of operators are to give the searcher greater control over what is found and what is ignored.
  • There are two types of operators: a) those that allow us to search for different parts of a website and b) those that allow us to turn the query into a formula.

Operator Type A - Site Attributes

  • Operators that search for different site attributes give us to power to restrict search results to different elements of the website or website URL.
  • Using these operators, we can further narrow down our search results if we have an idea of the site we are looking for.
  • Note: You must not have spaces between the colon and the word(s) you are searching for. When using multiple words, enclose them in " " (discussed later).
  • List of Operators
    • intitle: (Searches for what's in the page title)
      • intitle:Cheese
      • intitle:"University of Michigan"
    • inurl: (Searches for what's in the page URL)
      • inurl:business
      • inurl:wolverines
    • site: (Searches for domain information)*
      • site:wikipedia.org
      • site:reviews.cnet.com
    • filetype: (Searches for pages/documents with a specific extention)
      • filetype:pdf
      • filetype:xls
  • Advanced Operators
  • Important Notes About the site: Operator
    • Only works if a high-level domain is included. Let's take bit330f08.wikidot.com for example. We can search for anything uses anyone of these three queries:
      • site:com
      • site:wikidot.com
      • site:bit330f08.wikidot.com
    • The site: operator works backwards, starting at a high-level domain (.com, .org, .net, .edu, etc) and can be used to search sub-domains that exist to the left of them. Thus, the following searches will not work:
      • site:umich
      • site:wikidot
      • site:bit330
    • Use the inurl: operator to search for any website (regardless of domain) that has your search words in it

Operator Type B - Query Modifiers

  • Operators that modify how Google processes the query
  • Using these operators, we can create a variety of complex queries that take into considering and/or statements, synonymous words.
  • The query modifiers we have learned so far include:
    • + / AND (searches for word X & word Y)
      • Cheese+Crackers
      • Deep+Blue+Sea
    • - (excludes word X)
      • cheese -cheddar
      • michigan -wolverines
    • ~ (searches for X and synonyms of X)
      • ~bug repellent
      • ~fish tank
    • | / OR (searches for Y or Y)
      • turkey|chicken
      • site:edu OR site:org
    • * (adds a wild-card word)
      • University of * (would look for University of Michigan, University of Alabama, etc)
    • - (puts a place holder for dashes, spaces, or no spaces)
      • ice-cream (looks for ice cream, ice-cream, and icecream)
      • super-good (looks for super good, super-good, and supergood)
  • Crafting Search Queries Using Special Characters

Unique Phrases

  • Unique phrases (and phrases in general) help narrow your search results by focusing on a linked group of words instead of processing each one independently.
  • To use a phrase, put quotes (" " or ' ') around the words you want in a phrase.
  • Search engines have built-in abilities to help you build good phrases or suggest ones based on what you are typing. The goal is to make queries as detailed as possible early on.
    • Yahoo has Search Assist
    • Google has Google Suggest
  • Examples
    • Bad- class on advanced mathematics
    • Good- site:edu "~mathematics course" vectors|calculus|integrals
    • Bad - Hannah Montana Lyrics
    • Good - intitle:"Hannah Montana" lyrics "the bone dance"
  • Google Guide for Selecting Search Terms

Searching for a Place

  • Places can be pretty tricky if not searched for correctly. For example, if we are looking a list of restaurants in Ann Arbor, we don't want to be taken to a specific restaurants website or a review of a restaurant.
  • Tips
    • Use addresses, phone numbers, and zip codes when possible when searching for a specific place. This increases the chances of a "directory" type page.
      • potbelly 48104
      • pizza place 2024328384
    • Use catch words like "review", "menu", or "directions" to get specific information about a restaurant
    • Also use "official"

Think About the Different Ways Items Can Be Named

  • Names of people and items can exist in many different ways. Be sure to account for this in your search queries.
  • Example 1 - Names
    • George Bush
    • George W. Bush
    • George Walker Bush
    • Bush, George
    • Bush, George W.
    • Bush, George Walker
    • Walker Bush, George
    • W. Bush, George
  • Example 2 - CPU
    • CPU
    • Central Processing Unit
    • Processor
    • Computer Processor
    • Computer Processing Unit
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