By Ralph D. Thomas

No matter what sites you are trying to get to and find on the web, you'll likely use search engines often. Without search engines, looking something up on the Internet would be almost impossible.The problem with search engines is that you either get too many hits or two few hits. Most of us enter a key word and then hit search. However, there are some very unique strategies that you can use and different search engines you can use in different ways. Let us take a look at knowledge to help you search the web wih search engines with better results.

Keyword Searching
Keyword searching is using a key word to find what you are looking for. It's perhaps the most common form of search engine searching. Here are some types with using keyword searches.


A) Search your own mind and determine the most unique keyword you can think of. This will help lower the hit rate. Unique key words are important, otherwise you will get too many hits to review. Try to come up with sub-key words. By that, you automatically lower your number of hits because what you are doing with your mind is narrowing your search. I like Infoseek because it gives you the ability to conduct another search after you already performed one searching only the contents of your first list.


B) Know if upper and lower case mean anything on the search engine you are using.

C) Check a few like sites and see what keywords are used for those sites.


D) If at first you don't get what you want, try again and again. I keep a Franklin Language next to me. It is a pocket sized electronic version of a combined dictionary and a thesaurus. Use these to check spellings of key words. When you look up their definitions, you might find other key words and when you use the thesaurus you can easily find like meaning words.


E) Know your search engine. Almost all of them have help menus and how to do it pages. Take the time to read them.

There are a number of advanced techniques you can use but in order to use them, you will have to check the search engine you want to use to utilize them to make sure you are doing it correctly and every one is different. For example, Webcrawler doesn't need any phrase commands at all as it really is a search engine by phrase. The more words you add to the input, the narrower your search is going to be. But some search engines will require you to use the Phrase Command.


PHRASE SEARCHING: Generally phrases are placed in "". That is:

"Surveillance Investigator"

Any time you have more than one key word, you have a phrase. Although each search engine is different, know when you should use this method.

AND SEARCHING: When you place the word AND between two key words, you are telling the search database that you want to pull only listings with those key words. The most common way this is done is with a + for example: +investigative +resources. You will find that some search engines make it easy to use the AND search by offering you a click option.


OR SEARCHING: To example your hit list, use OR. it's like saying find anything with this OR that.


NOT SEARCHING: Not gives you the ability to weed out certain key words on your final list. You usually put a negative sign in front of your word for this search.
For example: let us say you want to search the word investigator bot not private investigators. You might use this: investigator-private. The database will pull up all investigator pages but not private investigator pages.


NEAR SEARCHING: Sometimes it is useful to use a keyword and tell the database you want a keyword that's near another word. You can specific the word count from the main keyword with NEAR SEARCHES. For example: Investigator NEAR/15 "surveillance issues". What you will pull up is site with the word investigator in it with the phrase "surveillance issues" fifteen words of closer to the main keyword" investigator.


WILDCARD SEARCHES: Wildcards searching generally places the symbol "*" after a word. It tells the database to look for variations of that word. For Example:


Might pull sites with words such as investigation, investigator, and investigative.

NESTED SEARCHING: Nested searching is usually one or more of the specialized search strategies describe above together. It might look something like this:

Investigator NEAR (Texas OR Tx)

In the above example, you should pull investigators in Texas or TX.


For More Information On Searching the web techniques, try these very good sites:

A huge newspaper that keeps you up-to-date on search engines and how to use them.

A huge collection of material on diferent aspects of using search engines to find what you are looking for and how to know which search engine to use.

Really good stuff-gives you insight into the different search engines.
FAQ that will provide you with answers to searching on the net.
A collection of college level papers on searching on the net and comparing search engines.
Very good article on how-to-do-it-right the first time.

By: Joseph A. Alcala

It helps to search on more than one search engine. In my experience, I have rated the top search engines you can use and give you many general comments on them.


I like AltaVista mainly because it seems to index more pages than any of the others. It's also very fast and seems to get new pages up faster than most. The AltaVista people have added a "REFINE" button to their searching you should check out. Take a look at it--it's quite interesting and useful. It gives you as list of major words found on your keyword search based on the contents of those hits and can choose to require or exclude and then search again.

Although Infoseek doesn't seem to be as comprehensive than AltaVista in the number of pages it has indexed, it often has new pages before Infoseek. This is likely because if you have a web site, you can get it indexed and the index starts appearing in a matter of minutes as apposed to days with AltaVista. One of the best features of Infoseek is it's ability to let you run a second search on top of your first search with narrower key words and only pull from the first hit list. That's very useful. Infoseek also has an advanced search that you can use that you should take a look. It's based on "must" "Should" or "Should Not" searching by phrase, name or word. Very useful in narrowing your search.

Excite is powerful and fast. I would say it indexes about as many pages as Infoseek but not quite as fast. Excite has some unique advanced searching ability that I love. One you get your list, at the top of the search page you will find a list of other key words you can add to your search just by clicking on it. I think that these words are based on the most frequently occurring words found in the contents of your first search. Note that is you search the word investigator, NAIS comes up-I strong indication of massive indexing of the huge NAIS site. Excite also offers a "find pages list this" after each listing which will further narrow your search-try it--you'll like it.

This is the first search engine I ever used and it's better today than it ever was. You can have it show or hide summaries. I have noted lately that when many articles review search engines, they are not including Webcrawler in their list of top seven or eight. That's likely because it seems to run slower than the others listed above. Webcrawler gives you a percentage rating based on your keywords and gives you a "find similar pages option which is quite useful.

Yahoo is a directory. I like it because of the way it is organized. It's fast and has categories with massive numbers of subcategories below it. This makes the whole searching process very easy on Yahoo. Although a directory, I have fond what I wanted when the above search engines have failed me.

I use Hotbot when I want to find a company narrowed by geography. It's a great place for that.

Lycos is a powerful place but has a special interest in it's ability to do specialized searches for graphics and sound files.


I hope I have shared some of what I have learned about searching on search engines. Watch for a future article on: SEARCHING IN NEWSGROUPS AS AN INVESTIGATIVE TOOL.


My Best,

Ralph D. Thomas