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Searching the Web

Most of us are concerned about where our websites are on the search engines. It's easy to forget that search engines are a valuable tool for your own business needs. Knowing how to use them is a useful skill and should be an important part of your business.

Ten Tips for Better Web Searching

  1. Know the difference between a search engine and a directory
  2. Learn how to use keywords and phrases effectively
  3. Use boolean terms to fine tune your search
  4. Try using the keyword in a URL address
  5. Use the results to hone your search further
  6. Remember spelling differences and homonyms
  7. Try out more than one engine or directory
  8. Learn how to use a few search engines really well
  9. Find regional or sector-specific search engines and directories
  10. Ask other business people what they use

1. Know the Difference between a search engine and a directory

Search services make it possible for net surfers to find information on the web. They don't create the information, they only catalogue it and serve it up as answers to your enquiries.

Search Engines - such as Alta Vista - send 'spiders' through the millions of pages out there. The engines then create an instant index of the Web: visitors can search through this by typing in keywords that describe what they're looking for. The search engine will then point the way to matching web sites.

Directories - such as Yahoo - are different from search engines because they are generally compiled through submissions by site owners. All sites are catalogued by topic, and visitors "drill down" to find their topic of interest.

2. Learn how to Use Keywords and Phrases effectively

Before beginning your quest think about what you are looking for. These will be your "keywords" or "phrases".

For example if you're sourcing "plastic bolts" for your business, these two words are so common that you'll get back far too many page references. Adding less common words brings the list down to a useful size. For instance, "plastic bolts CPVC" will narrow the list very effectively.

Remember a single well-considered keyword can garner more information than the most complicated query; your ingenuity in picking an unusual but relevant keyword will makr you out as a "search engine wizard"!

3. Use Boolean Terms to Fine Tune Your Search

Learn how to use boolean terms (AND, NOT) to help fine tune your search. You can shorten those to + or - in many search engines (such as Alta Vista www.av.com) Using these will narrow your results down significantly, and help you to find exactly what you're looking for quickly.

For example:

+plastic+bolts-nylon+europe (NB: put spaces between words)

This means find all pages that include "plastic", "bolts", and "europe" but do NOT contain the word "nylon"

  • Tip - only put " " around keywords if you are seeking a specific phrase, and want results that only include that string of words in that order.

4. Try Using the Keyword in a URL address

Your keyword might be a URL; try typing it in with .com after it, such as www.tyres.com or www.autoparts.com. Also, if you're looking for a specific company, type in their name as a URL, such as www.apple.com, www.dhl.ie.

5. Use the Results to Hone Your Search Further

Use the results to hone your search - if the returned selection you get is too broad, you need to add more terms to make it more specific - and vice versa. Also, sift through at least 50 results before starting another search.

When you find a useful reference in a long list, examine it to identify specialist keywords that will locate other similar entries. Some search engines (Excite) can assist you in this process.

6. Remember Spelling Differences and Homonyms

Remember the world is at your fingertips now. Aside from cultural differences there are spelling differences as well. American spellings vary from English, you might be missing your answer by only searching organisation (organization) and color (colour).

  • Tip - Homonyms can affect your search : China/china or Polish/polish.
  • Tip - Use "stem words" with an asterisk to cover word variations and plurals, e.g. organi* or bolt

7. Try out More Than One Engine or Directory

It's easy to get in a rut using the BIG 2: Google and Yahoo!

Experiment and cast your net wider. To locate others try: Beaucoop Links! (www.beaucoup.com). To search several engines at once try MetaCrawler (www.metacrawler.com) or Dogpile (www.dogpile.com) or Ask Jeeves (www.askjeeves.com).

8. Learn how to Use a Few Search Engines really well

After you've experiemented, pick 2 or 3 search engine/directories that you feel comfortable with. Study the help section and learn how to use them to best effect.

9. Find Regional or Sector-Specific Search Engines and Directories

It isn't all a .com business world out there you know. Regional search engines and directories are gaining in popularity, and are an invaluable resource for sourcing, importing, procuring or researching. Almost all the major search engines/directories have regional versions of their services. If you like Yahoo!, narrow your search to a geographical area: www.yahoo.co.jp (Japan). Kompass, an international business-to-business resource, has a www.kompass.com, as well as regional web sites; such as www.kompass.ie, and www.kompass.se, www.kompass.is, www.kompass.fr, to name but a few.

10. Ask Other Business People what they use

Find out what your peers are using. For example, here are a few recommended search engines and directories:
Ask Jeeves (www.askjeeves.com) ask questions and get results
Google (www.google.com) excellent directory
Kompass Ireland (www.kompass.ie) directory of businesses in Ireland
Doras (www.doras.ie) web site directory for Irish Sites with reviews
Research-It! (www.iTools.com/research-it/) many tools on one page
PhoneNumbers.net (http://phonenumbers.net/) list of international phone/fax/email