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Web Searching: Google

Informing students on how to carry out effective web searches

Google

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Pros

  • Great results, fast. Most popular search engine, leading the pack.
  • Innovation – new resources, search tools e.g. Google Translate (and Lens app) very useful for machine translation of text!
  • Personalisation: it learns your preferences and tailors results to you. Same with search suggestions as you type.

Cons

  • Money and ad revenue driven; cuts functionality/tools that aren’t profitable enough even if they are good e.g. Google Reader; synonym search symbol ~ (tilde)
  • “the tools come and go and the search experience can change not only from week to week but from hour to hour.”
  • Personalisation: results/ranking are affected by your previous searches, which can be problematic particular when searching the literature. Log out to search without personalisation. “…it’s very easy to end up in a filter bubble; only seeing material that reaffirms your beliefs.”
  • The only way to remove personalisation is to use DuckDuckGo which uses the Google database to run searches but Google cannot identify you as the user.
  • “Google is poor at nested logic, so it might entirely misunderstand complex searches that use several operators”
  • The real users are those that pay to advertise on Google. Generates revenue with successful matching to products you buy via ads. The more time you’re on Google, the more ad revenue it can generate, but you also need to successfully find what you are looking for – it’s a balancing act between the two imperatives. Search functionality has actually been removed over time! E.g. can no longer by ‘reading levels’. Advanced search is more hidden.
  • Searching for multiple words – should find them all, but sometimes it drops a few words and strikes them out under the page in the results.

Quotes taken from chapter 3 of Bradley, P. 2017. Expert Internet Searching. 5th edition. London: Facet Publishing.

Recommendations

  • Check what Google is tracking about your use and edit via https://myactivity.google.com/myactivity
  • Word order matters – more weight to words that appear first in search string
  • Use as many words as possible in your search.
  • Think about: what is the result you’re looking for? How might it be phrased on a website as the answer? E.g. the capital of Belgium is…
  • Use “phrase searches” by putting your search terms in quotations, Google will search for the exact wording you use.
  • Google struggles if you use lots of operators for a complex search. It ignores brackets () so you can’t use them to control a complex search.
  • * truncation, or e.g. replace a word/words missing in a phrase

Increase results

  • Child OR teenager

Exclude terms

  • Council security but not security council
  • The minus symbol excludes terms.
  • So search “council security” – security council

Refining results

If you search for climate change

Google doesn’t know exactly what we want to find from this search,

What kind of website am I looking for?

Climate change site: UK

Limits results to in the UK, but will include .com results even if they come from UK sources.

Site: DE finds German sites etc.


Finding official sources

Climate change site: gov.uk

Climate change site: esssex.gov.uk

Site:ac.uk – for academic websites

Official documents – file types

Climate change filetype: pdf

Organisations will add official data in PDF format as this is usually the version they would print.

Powerpoint: filetype: ppt

Might find conference papers, perhaps more informative.

Filetype: doc or filetype: docx

If you’re interested in what people are saying about a topic

“climate” change filetype: doc will focus on climate over change, to combat this put the whole phrase in quotations e.g. “climate change” filetype: doc

Climate change filetype: ppt site: ac.uk

Will show powerpoints from British academic websites e.g. lecture presentations or conference papers.

About the source: If you press the three vertical dots, you can read more information about the website result before linking through.

Specific words in specific places

In text

Climate change intext: efficiency

Efficiency will be in the text in the page

In title

In title: climate change

The words will be in the title of the page

Could then add site: gov.uk for example.

Allintitle: climate change – all the words must be in the title

In URL

Inurl: climate

www.climate.com for example

inurl: climate change library

This means library will be in the URL as well as climate change, the only problem is that you have to rely on someone having created a website with these elements in the URL.

Tools options

Anytime

Change anytime to limit results to specific periods of time e.g. updated in the last hour or a custom range

Change all results to verbatim

This limits the search to the specific words you’ve used in the search bar e.g. creating a video, will search for those exact words and not making a video.

Related searches (at the bottom of the page)

Worth looking at what other people have searched for.

Settings

  • Explicit results filter – having this turned on will limit medical results

BOOLEAN

  • It struggles if you use lots of operators for a complex search. It ignores brackets () so you can’t use them to control a complex search.
  • Boolean AND works, but not necessary as it’s implied between words…
  • OR or | symbol
  • NOT or - too.
  • BUT ALL BOOLEAN operators work inconsistently- perhaps due to all the algorithms at work too.

Advanced search filter

May be simpler way to search as Google tells you exactly how it is going to search.

  • Number ranges can be used to date limit searches – doesn’t work incredibly well but will narrow results.
  • Region searching works better by doing a site: search as it won’t exclude .com results from the UK.

Give Google as much information as you can in your searches.

Many of these tips will work in Google Scholar too.

Quotes taken from chapter 3 of Bradley, P. 2017. Expert Internet Searching. 5th edition. London: Facet Publishing. Notes from Bradley’s Google Power Hour, per comms 21.10.2022

Google Advanced Search allows you to refine your search so that you can retrieve more relevant results.

Google has its own command words you can use within your search in order to advanced search using the search bar.

Search social media

Put @ in front of a word to search social media. For example: @twitter.

Search for a price

Put in front of a number. For example: camera $400.

Search hashtags

Put in front of a word. For example: #throwbackthursday

Exclude words from your search

Put - in front of a word you want to leave out. For example, jaguar speed -car

Search for an exact match

Put a word or phrase inside quotes. For example, "tallest building".

Search within a range of numbers

Put .. between two numbers. For example, camera $50..$100.

Combine searches

Put "OR" between each search query. For example, marathon OR race.

Search for a specific site

Put "site:" in front of a site or domain. For example, site:youtube.com or site:.gov.

Search for related sites

Put "related:" in front of a web address you already know. For example, related:time.com.

See Google’s cached version of a site

Put "cache:" in front of the site address.

Whole word wildcard

Put an asterisk * in place of a word e.g. "I * a dream"

(Guidance provided by Google and Miller, M. 2011. Using Google Advanced Search. Pearson Education.)

Google Advanced Image Search allows you to retrieve more relevant images to your search topic as well as finding images with or without copyright.

You can save links, images, and places from Google search results to Collections to find them later.

Important: This feature may not be available in all languages and countries. To find your Collections, sign in to your Google Account.

Create a collection

  1. On your computer, go to google.com/collections.
  2. On the left, select New collection Add.
  3. Name the collection.
  4. Select Create.
  5. Search for things to add.

Save items to a collection

You can save images, recipes, shows and movies, and places to a collection.

  1. On your computer, search on google.com.
  2. Click the result you want.
  3. At the top, click More More and then Add to Add to.
    • If you don't find Add to Add to, there isn't an option to save this item.

Tip: The item saves to your most recent collection. To choose a different collection, click Change and then choose a collection.

Find or remove your saved items

Important: You can delete collections that you created. You can't delete collections created by Google or others.

  1. On your computer, go to google.com/collections.
  2. On the left, click a collection.
  3. To remove items, click Select and choose the items you want to remove.
  4. At the top, click Delete Remove.

Tip: To remove the entire collection, at the right click More More and then Delete.

Share a collection

  1. On your computer, go to google.com/collections.
  2. On the left, click the collection you want to share.
  3. At the top right, click Share Share.
  4. Add the name or emails you want to share with.
    • To let others make changes to your collection: Select Contributor.
    • To let others view your collection only: Select View only.

(Guidance provided by Google)