Effective Web Searching

General Search Tips

Experiment with different keywords to see what will get you the best results.


Situation Bad Strategy Good Strategy
I’m trying to find the population of Portugal. If I just search for people in Portugal, I’m not going to get very far. I try to use different, more specific words and phrases like population of Portugal to get the information I need.

Use extra keywords to help place frequently used words in context.


Situation Bad Strategy Good Strategy
I’m trying to find out who sang the song, Beautiful People. Just searching for Beautiful People, I can’t seem to find the song. There’s an organization called beautiful people and even some websites that we’ll just say look pretty strange. I can put the phrase Beautiful People in context by adding words to my search such as song or lyrics.

Use quotes around text to find only instances of that exact phrase.


Situation Bad Strategy Good Strategy
I’m trying to find information on an old friend named Kathryn Mae Johnson. Unfortunately, this is a pretty common name and Google keeps giving me people like Kathy or Katherine, or people with a different middle name. I can put quotes around “Kathryn Mae Johnson” to just find that exact phrase. That’ll give me a better chance of actually finding my friend.
I keep getting the same error message in a program I use, and I’m trying to figure out what it means and what I should do about it. I try just typing in the text of the error message, but Google keeps giving me pages that have nothing to do with my error message. I can put quotes around the text in the error message to only find pages with that exact text.

Use advanced Google Search to get better results. The Advanced Search button will be right under the search bar, on the right.


Situation Bad Strategy Good Strategy
You’re looking for information on people named Lily, but only keep getting the flower. Scroll through 1000 pages of mostly irrelevant search results to find the mentions of people. Use advanced search to find sites that don’t use the words flower or plant.
You want to find information just on a single site, but that site doesn’t have its own search bar. Search through the site for hours to find what you’re looking for. Use advanced search to find results only on a particular site.

Once on a page, press Ctrl+F in most browsers and you’ll be able to search for text on the page.


Situation Bad Strategy Good Strategy
I’m doing research on Lord of the Rings and I’m trying to find how he uses symbolism in his writing. I found some good articles, but they’re so long and I only care about the parts about symbolism. Read the entire 150-page literary analysis just to find where symbolism is mentioned 3 times. Press Ctrl+F, type in symbolism and hit Enter. Then I can find every time symbolism is mentioned on the web page and skim through the 150-page article in 10 minutes, taking great notes on the parts about symbolism.

Check out this site for 10 other, obscure (but useful) Google Search tricks!

Alternative Search Engines


If I’m trying to find information that might be found in an encyclopedia (and much more), I might just go straight to Wikipedia. They have a lot of great, up-to-date, and mostly surprisingly accurate information.

Google Maps

Google Maps isn’t just great for directions. If you need a phone number or the opening hours of a location near you, Google Maps can often find it for you. Just type in the name of the business (optionally with “near [this city]”) and you can find the phone number to order from the nearest Jimmy Johns!


If I want to hear a song, legally and for free, I can head on over to Grooveshark and see if I can listen to it there. They even surprisingly have a lot of rare music. If you want a real treat, try searching for the Traveling Wilburys: a band made up of George Harrison (from The Beatles), Tom Petty (from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, and Jack Lynn (from Electric Light Orchestra). They make some incredible music too! :-)

Google Video Search

If your looking for a song you can’t find on Grooveshark or want to see the music video, this is the place. Also, if you’re looking for a tutorial on how to do something, videos can often be the most useful. This can be better than just searching on YouTube, because it will show videos not only from YouTube, but also from many other sites.

Internet Movie Database (IMDb)

If you want to see all the movies and TV shows a certain actor has been in, or you want to find more information on a movie or TV show, this is definitely the place to go.

Wolfram Alpha

This search engine lets you type in real language to find statistical and mathematical information. For example, if I hear that someone spent $20,000 on something in 1923, I can use Wolfram Alpha to figure out what would be equivalent to spending $20,000 today. For this example, I would just type in “How much would $20,000 in 1923 be worth today?” And by the way, it would be like spending over $250,000!


Ever had a song stuck in your head without the words? Sing or hum into a microphone and Midomi will try to identify what song that is. Even with my horrible singing voice, it’s surprisingly accurate.

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