Advanced Searching Techniques

Addressing a room packed with attendees, search expert Greg Notess discussed advanced features of search engines. It is well known that most users never even see the advanced features page on search engine sites, let alone actually using the features. The advanced features are not always needed, but they provide powerful enhancements and can be very useful. Greg is the owner and maintainer of the SearchEngineShowdown Web site, and keeps a chart of search engine features up to date. He has found that many advanced features are not documented by the search engines.

Here are some helpful techniques that you may find useful.
1. Search transfer between and within search engines, allowing running the same search quickly on several search engines. Between search engines, bookmarklets on the browser toolbar facilitate transferring the search strategy.
2. Refine and explore terms. Several search engines provide clustering of results to make exploration of different concepts easier. The clusters appear on the right side of the screen in some search engines, and on the left in others.
3. Search as you type. Google provides Google Suggest, which is a dropdown box of suggested search terms. It uses some Web 2.0 features. Alltheweb lets you see search results as you type terms (provided you type them fairly slowly).
4. The Defining Moment. Definitions are useful features of search engines. provides dropdown menus for search types and uses major offline reference works. Wikipedia is good for current technology-type definitions. Google’s define:term is good for current topics, especially definitions on the Web itself.
5. Search the societal networking sites lets you see the sites that many people have linked to and how they have been tagged by the users. is good for technology and buzzwords, FURL is for more professional and business topics, and Connotea specializes in scientific terminology.
6. Field searching allows one to restrict a search to a subset of the Web—digging deep instead of broad. Link searching allows searching link patterns on the Web. For example, one can find all sites linking to, and can even search subsets of links using Google’s inurl feature.
7. Expanded subset searching. Rollyo allows you to build a personalized search engine, and Microsoft’s Live (formerly MSN) has a macro feature allowing creation of personalized or advanced commands.
8. Filetype searches. On the Advanced Search page of most search engines, one can search for filetypes, such as PDF, .doc, etc.
9. Find sites linking to a specific website by using link:.
10. Go beyond “phrase searching” using Exalead’s NEAR operator. The default is proximity within 16 words, but by using NEAR/n, the user can specify words within n words of another. Google provides less control and precision using “word1 * word2”.
11. Don’t forget the cache to the past. Many search engines provide this capability, as does the Wayback Machine. Using the cache, one can find previous versions of Web sites, including those that are now dead.

Greg packed an enormous amount of very useful information into his talk; see his Website or the Information Today conference presentations for the full details.

Don Hawkins
IL2006 Blog Coordinator and Columnist, Information Today

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