How Search Engines Work ▾
Search engines are software applications designed to find requested information in the form of Web pages,
PDF files, images, videos, etc. anywhere on the World Wide Web. Most search engines arrange results in the form of a list, with the most commonly accessed (“hit”) pages at the top and the least accessed at the bottom. (If you’re wondering why I say “World Wide Web” and
not “Internet,” it’s because the Internet is a network comprised of millions of computers globally, and the
Web is an interface that allows you to access parts
of the Internet via browsers. They are not, in fact,
the same thing.)
Search engines work by combing (or “crawling”) the Web through the use of programs called spiders, sometimes up to several times a day. These spiders
find newly added pages and record the links contained within them. They also update existing pages within an index. These pages are immediately available for access via a search from that search engine’s index (think of it like a catalog).
Search Terms ▾
To yield the best results from any search engine, you have to know how to fine tune your search terms (aka parameters). Most popular search engines (like Google) allow you to use both text and calculator operators to pare down your results.
Text operators are the easiest to remember for most users. To demonstrate how to get the best results for a search using text operators, I opened to a random project in
the latest issue of Scrapbooking & Beyond, which calls for “foam dots” with no additional information, such as manufacturer or exact product name. I opted to use Google (it’s the fastest and most accurate search engine out there) and typed foam dots into the search field. This very general search, which includes all occurrences of the word “foam” appearing in the same document as the word “dots.” My search resulted in 579,000 results (Fig. 1).
As you can see from the first few entries, I’m not close to anything resembling what I need, which I suspect are those small double-sided foam adhesive dots. I just don’t know the manufacturer or exact product name. If I enclose those same words in quotations (“foam dots”), telling Google to search for both of those words in that exact order, my search yields a far more manageable 10,600 links, and the first few pages are all adhesive related (Fig. 2).
My current search results include every Web page related to adhesive dots, but doesn't necessarily include adhesive dots used for crafting. If I add the word craft to my search to eliminate any pages that aren’t crafting related, while also broadening the search to include craft-related pages that have perhaps vague mentions of foam dots, I obtain 29,000 results. Yes, this figure is larger than the 10,600 results I received for just “foam dots,” but every result is craft and adhesive related, which makes this an accurate search. In a nutshell, entering “foam dots craft” would have yielded precisely the results I wanted (Fig. 3).
By default, Google adds the calculator operator (+) to all words entered in the search field, so there’s no need to be concerned with Google recognizing that you’re adding words to your parameters.
More Helpful Tips for Using Google ▾
If you’re looking for a particular product on a specific website, use the (:) operator between the site URL and the search term. In other words, if you’re looking for Fly a Kite Border Rub Ons at Two Peas in a Bucket, simply enter twopeasinabucket.com:fly a kite border rub ons (with or without a space before and after the colon) into the search field. The first result will be the item you’re looking for (Fig. 4)!
The text operator OR is placed uppercased between words in the search field to tells Google to search for the first word or the second word. This helps to broaden a search for very specific items, which can be handy if you’re searching for, say, patterned paper or scrapbook paper (enter “patterned paper” OR “scrapbook paper”).
The tilde symbol (~) tells Google to search for either the word directly following it or its synonyms. For instance, if you aren’t sure if the item you want is considered a glue or an adhesive, type in craft ~glue. This yields a lot of useful results—all of them are for either glue, adhesive, or epoxy.
When in doubt, consult the Help or FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page for whichever search engine or index you’re using. Chances are, you are not the first person to want to search more effectively. Hopefully, we’ve given you a head start here! ■ ■ ■