“I once was lost, but now am found.” –”Amazing Grace”
The Internet connects you with billions of web pages. Gleaning meaningful information from all these pages can be daunting.
But software tools enable you to search the Internet and retrieve the results you want. These “search engines” comb through cyberspace to cache and index web pages for easy retrieval. Search engines use software programs known as “spiders” to crawl the web and maintain lists of keywords on web pages. You can then access those web pages using the appropriate keywords in your search.
Besides search engines, you can use tools like “subject directories” or “research databases” that contain links to useful data as well. Learning how to search the Internet requires an understanding of how to use these tools well.
How to Search the Internet–Using Keywords
To begin searching the Internet you must and define your topic. The more specific and focused your search, the more likely that you will be able to retrieve the precise information you seek. Search engines use “keywords” to track down web pages that match the search criteria. Some keywords work better than others, so it may take some experimentation before your query yields the results you want.
Unless you want a broad overview of a particular topic, make sure that you use multiple, specific keywords. For example, if you want to know how to lose weight, the keywords “lose weight,” “how to lose weight,” etc. will provide meaningful search results. If you have a more clearly-defined goal—such as losing ten pounds in two months, then building your keywords around those words will return web pages with relevant results.
Combine your keywords into phrases to narrow down the scope of your search. Also note that the best keyword phrases use nouns, verbs and object; avoid definite articles such as “a” or “the,” as search engines ignore these words, considering them fluff.
How to Search the Internet–Using Search Engines
Once you define your topic with the relevant keywords, type those keywords into the search engine’s text box. You can choose from multiple search engines, but Google is the most widely used search engine on the web today, indexing billions of web pages in its search results.
Type your keywords into the text box and evaluate the results. If you find that most of the resulting web pages from your search contain little useful information, but instead mainly focus on sales oriented material, then refine your keywords and try again. Adding or subtracting keywords will qualify the information enough to produce the results you expect.
Searching the Internet–Tweaking Your Search
Tweak your search further by using several other methods. Some search engines such as Google have an Advanced Search button which allows you to refine your search with additional criteria. This includes, for example, the ability to include pages with certain keywords, while excluding pages with other keywords. You can also limit the number of pages returned from the search results, specify a language filter, and indicate date and region specific criteria for your search. Click on the relevant FAQ page for the search engine you use to understand all of the options available to you.
Other methods for refining your search include using Boolean operators such as “and” or “or”, and enclosing phrases in quotations. You can also try to different spelling for the same keyword phrases; even misspellings can deliver a different set of results.
How to Search the Internet Using MetaSearch Engines
In recent years, “meta search engines” have emerged too, enabling you to consolidate search results from several search engines. From a user perspective a meta search engine works like a standard search engine. Enter your keyword phrase and see organic search results.
But unlike standard search engines, however, this tool submits your keyword phrase across a collection of the most popular search engines, and aggregates results from all of them. This ensures that your search query casts the widest possible net, so to speak, and you receive all of the most relevant results without having to visit each search engine individually.
Other metasearch engines include:
Searching Internet Subject Directories
“Internet subject directories” can help you with your research too. Directories store information in a hierarchical format in much the same way that you would expect to find in an encyclopedia or a library. Subject directories catalog a smaller, more focused subset of information than you would expect to find in the entire web, because human editors, rather than computers, compile the information.
You can browse these directories by clicking on their subject categories and continually drilling down to additional sub categories of information. You can also conduct a search by typing in keywords in a search box, in the same way that you would with traditional search engines.
Directories tend be more useful when you want a broad overview of subject matter, or when you don’t know exactly what you’re searching for.
Some of the more popular directories include:
Using Research Databases to Find Information on the Net
Another effective method of searching the Internet involves using the great number of research databases available online. Notable databases such as Ebsco Host grant users access to newspaper and magazine articles, as well as peer-reviewed publications with articles on a given topic. Searching these sources will provide more credible information than generic searches on web pages, which sometimes contain content geared more towards promoting products rather than providing unbiased information.
In order to gain access to these research databases, you usually have to go through a “portal” such as an academic institution or library. If you are not a student, your public library’s website will sometimes provide online links to these databases for users who are patrons. Ask the librarian of your nearest public library if they provide this access for their members.
Barring that, a few databases can be directly accessed online. Some include:
Searching the Internet well takes time and practice. It involves clearly defining the scope of your search, and using all of the available tools to research that information.