Searching on the World Wide Web


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Tutorial Overview

Topics covered in this tutorial (click link to jump to topic):

1. Search Engines 5. Types of Search
2. Google 6. "Required" and "Prohibited" Search Words
3. Links to Search Engines 7. Restricting your search to one part of the web page
4. How to Search   What happens if you don’t get any search results?

Search Engines

So with all these pages (no one knows exactly how many, certainly in the billions), how do I find information I am interested in? You use a search engine - another type of web site on the web - to provide you with a list of links to sites that contain a "keyword" you have specified.

Search engines are:

  • a web address you can go to to search
  • a company motivated to provide the best search results to their users (as traffic to their site culminates in company profits)
    • a search technology owned by above company, sometimes referred to as a "bot" (short for "robot") and an indexing algorythm.
    • a network of computers owner by above company to perfom the indexing and storage of results

So why does Google get so much attention?

Well, in the first instance people found its plain search box page, fast loading results and agruably better results were its main draw. As time progressed users developed more and more confidence in Google's search results to such a degree that now "Google" is a household word and the name has become a verb.

Google is great. It is now the proxy standard for searches on the web. Recently Google has added a range of services to their search. eg. Gmail, Sitemaps, Trends, GTalk, Google Earth etc. With all these additions it is difficult to see where Google is headed and what their end game is. To speculate, there would be excellent confluences if Google search was integrated with Google Earth making searching with geography far better.

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Links to Search Engines

Australian Search Engines

International Search Engines

First, the four biggest players (in order)... getting over 80% of all searches...

Other big search engines, with less hits...

Meta Crawlers (ie. use the databases of other search engines)

To Search Newsgroups

...and many, many more.

A search engine is a web server you can visit to query a remote database of information about web pages. You visit the homepage of the search engine company, complete a form, post your request to a web server, that server retrieves the requested information from the companies database and posts you the results in groups of 10 "hits"– all in a matter of seconds!

Although search engines operate in many different ways, essentially they compare your keywords to those it has in a massive database. That database is growing all the time as new web pages are added to web servers around the world. The search engines crawls over the web servers extracting keywords, page titles, descriptions, the date the page was created and so on.

The search results are usually in order of how closely they meet your keywords, expressed as a percentage... but there are search engines that sort the search results by the type of server or the date the information was put up on the web. Note when searching it is better not to use capital letters and spaces are required.

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How to Search

If you do a search on one word – that’s called a "keyword" in the language of the Internet - you will notice you got many thousand of links... so perhaps you should consider adding a second keyword to your first word to make your search more specific? Eg. instead of just "art", try "modern art", instead of just "guitar music", try "classical guitar music" or whatever is likely to restrict the number of pages that come back. Here are some common ways to restrict or target your searches...

1. The Exact Phrase

Place quotations around your keywords e.g. "australian wildlife" will find occurrences of the words "Australian" and "wildlife" beside each other, in the specified order. In other words, the "exact phrase".

2. All of the Words

Just use two or three keywords together without quotation marks or place an "AND" between your keywords eg. australian wildlife or australian AND wildlife will find web pages containing the words "australian" and "wildlife" on the same page, but not side by side or in the specified order. In other words, "all of the words".

3. Any of the Words

Place "OR" between your keywords to find sites containing "Australian" or "wildlife" or both. In other words, "any of the words"

Note that these top three search expressions are probably the ones you will use most. Obviously 1. is the most restrictive search, while 2. finds more links and 3. The most links.

4. "Required" and "Prohibited" Search Words

Attaching one of the following operators will either require or prohibit words from appearing in the search results. In other words

+ or "must contain"

Attaching a + to a word requires that the word be found in all of the search results.

: bellingen versus bellingen +accommodation

- or "must not contain"

Attaching a - in front of a word requires that the word not be found in any of the search results.

compare: bellingen versus bellingen -council

5. Restricting your search to one part of the web page

Attaching one the following operators to the front of a search word will restrict the search to a certain sections of an HTML document.

- will restrict searches to document titles only

compare: roy slaven versus t:roy slaven

- will restrict searches to document URLs only

: intel versus u:intel

Wildcard Matching (*)

Attaching a * to the right-hand side of a word will return left side partial matches.

compare: cap versus cap*

Combining the Syntax

You may combine any of the query syntax as long as the syntax is combined in the proper order. The proper order for using the syntax is the same order that the operators are listed on this page. That is, +, -, t:, u:, "" and lastly *.

compare: (correct) +t:football -Australian versus (incorrect) t:+football -Australian

h3>What happens if you don’t get any search results?
  • check your spelling, use American spelling
  • remove any capitals from your keyword/s
  • think of what other terms are used to describe your subject of interest, search on these eg. "windsurfing" versus "sailboarding"
  • try other search engines
  • go to a newsgroup on your subject. Postings in newsgroups are a good source of links to relevant web pages - they are after all someone else’s recommendation to visit a site they thought was relevant.
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