Search Engine Basics
By Kasey Chang
An Internet Search Engine is one
of the most powerful tools available on the Internet. If you know
how to use it properly, and learn how to interpret the results, it
is actually very simple to use. The main problem is interpreting
I assume that you are already somewhat familiar with "web
browsing" (going from site to site). You can connect to the
Internet, and operate a web browser such as Internet Explorer or
AOL's own web browser window to view some of your favorite sites
(such as Seniormag.com!)
So what is a search engine?
Basically, a search engine is
like a huge card catalog that indexes everything on the Internet.
Some sort of program runs automatically and checks for new content
on the Internet, as well as update existing entry. However, all
this is background stuff. You don't need to know how the engine
works to drive a car, nor do you need to know how a search engine
works to use one.
Using a search engine
So how do you use a search
engine? You simply go to the search engine website of your choice,
enter a few words in the search box, hit the "find"
button, and it will return to you all the results it deems
relevant to your search, sorted by relevancy. Clicking on any of
the results will theoretically take you to a page that has
something to do with your keywords.
You can find all sorts of information on the web nowadays. Now
sure what a drug does for you? Put the drug name into a search
engine, and immediately find out. Need to know which doctor
accepts your insurance? Go to your insurance carrier's website and
search for your doctor's name.
Let us now try a search engine... One of the most used search
engine on the web now is Google.
You can either open a new browser window and type the address www.google.com
or just click on the links and a new window will open for you and
take you directly to Google. Coming back to SeniorMag
is easy because all you will have to do is close the Google window
and you will be right back here again.
For example, let us say you want to find local weather forecasts
for your area. Just enter a search phrase like "local
weather for San Francisco California". Don't type in
the quotes... And click on "FIND". Look at the results
you got... You should see links to various websites that have
local weather for San Francisco!
Now have a little fun. Replace San Francisco California with
your own city and state, and search for weather again.
You can enter any sort of words into the search engine, and the
search engine will try to locate results for you. Some search
engines will also suggest related words or categories, to help you
find what you need.
Search engines usually do not
care about capital or lowercase. So don't worry about SAN
FRANCISCO or San Francisco or even san francisco. It doesn't
matter to the search engine.
The more words you specify, the more accurate your results would
be. For example, searching for "san francisco giants" is
better than just "giants". If you are searching for
"San Francisco Giants", you don't want to read links
about New York Giants (the football team), the giants of Greek
mythology, or Andre the Giant (the wrestler). Being more specific
gives you better search results.
If you need to search for a phrase, like "Eternal Vigilance
is the price of freedom", put the phrase in quotes and
If you are not getting any results, start removing words from your
list. You can get TOO specific, and it can confuse the search
Some search engines let you type in a full sentence. For example,
you can enter a question like "What is the best deal for
Hawaii?" or "What is the best treatment for
arthritis?" However, most search engines do not need a full
sentence. Simply enter as many keywords as you can.
(http://www.google.com) and Altavista
(http://www.altavista.com)are probably the two best known search
engines, though AskJeeves
(http://www.aj.com) allows natural language queries (i.e. allows
use of full sentences). Other smaller search engines are Lycos
(http://www.lycos.com), and WebCrawler
Clicking on any of the above
names in bold will take you to that search engine. Try
different ones for different results and to see which you like the
If you are NOT sure where to search or you don't know what words
to try, a subject index can help. Yahoo
is the best known subject index, grouped by all sorts of subjects,
from location to topic. You can start at the top level, then drill
down further and further into the categories, and you can see
links in your specific category, as well as related categories.
(http://www.yahoo.com) is the best known subject index, though it
calls itself a directory. Pick a category, then drill down to the
specific category you need, and examine the links.
Another subject index is Looksmart
(http://www.looksmart.com). Click on the topic then drill down to
more specific categories. Most search engines also offer some sort
of subject index you can click through.
There are other types of search engines as well. For example, THOMAS
is the Library of Congress Search Engine (http://thomas.loc.gov/),
which allows you to search for any laws, pending legistlations,
and even committee meeting records from the US Congress (both
House and Senate).
If you need to look up businesses and such in your local area, you
should use online "yellow pages" such as Yahoo's
Yellow Pages (http://yp.yahoo.com) or SmartPages
(http://www.smartpages.com). There are many other types of search
engines dealing with specific issues and topics as well. How about
an online dictionary. You can look up meanings and
alternatives for almost any English word on Webster's
Search engines do not always return good results. You need to look
at the results it gives you and check each one. If the link does
not provide the information you need, backtrack to the search
results page and check the next link, and so on.
Sometimes, the link can take you
to the right website, but the wrong page, and you'll need to
site yourself for the right page that has your answers.
To summarize, search engine is a great tool on the web. Be more
specific and you'll get better (more relevant) search results.
Try a topic index if you're not
sure what to search for. Try a specialized search engine if you
need special information. Try the different search engines for
your next research, or just enter what comes to your mind
and see where it takes you.
Have fun, and I'll see you on the