« Previous | Main | Next »

Make the most of search engines

Post categories:

Sandra Vogel Sandra Vogel | 16:41 UK time, Friday, 30 March 2012

Most of us rely on search engines as our route into the web. Search engines use very sophisticated indexing systems to help them search and sort millions upon millions of bits of information at ultra-fast speeds, in order to answer our never-ending mountain of questions.

Without search engines the web would be a much less useful place.

But are you making the most of what search engines have to offer? They tend to have quite sophisticated tools you can use to narrow down searches and make sure the results they produce really are close to what you need. It's not difficult to use these tools - but you do need to know that they exist and how to get to them.


For starters, did you know that many major search engines can be used to look for images just by clicking a link on the screen?

Go to a search engine like Bing, Ask or Google, type in something you'd like to see pictures of, and click the 'images' link on screen. Try the same search in all three engines and it is likely you'll get a huge range of different images.

It goes further, though. You can refine an image search, narrowing the selections down by criteria like colour, type of image (face, photo, clip art etc), image size and so on. In a similar way you can search for videos rather than images.


How about if you are a news junkie, or you want to look at one particular news story in depth?

There are special areas of search engines which stick to news stories. Bing can refine news into categories (political, sport, World, and UK), while Google can range stories by date - even including a custom date range.

If you go to Google News you can get rolling headlines from a huge range of sources, and can personalise how much of different categories such as sports, science and health hit the feed, as well as choosing your preferred sources - including the BBC and a range of national newspapers.

Digging deeper

When it comes to general searching, many of us rely on typing words into the main page of a search engine and then looking through the results. While this often works, it doesn't make the most of what the engine has to offer.

Look for the advanced search option on the Ask home page or go to the advanced area in Google and you will see that there's a lot more on offer.

Suppose, for example, you are interested in gardens open to the public that are not owned by the National Trust. You can specifically exclude the National Trust from your search results by using this page.

You don't need to use the advanced search page to get sophisticated with search, though. You can also use special terms in the main search engine box.

Search terms

Try putting a phrase into quotation marks - that will ensure the search engine looks for exact matches of what's inside the quotation marks. This can be helpful when you are searching for something specific using a multi-word phrase. As is the case with a single word search, this collection of words in called a search term.

Use a minus sign to exclude particular terms, for example a search on 'red, green -blue' will return results that mention red and green but not blue.

Not all search engines offer the same advanced tools, so it is worth looking at the advanced search tips to see what tools are on offer and how best to make use of them.

While many of us can get along quite well simply by typing words into a search engine and looking through the results, this technique doesn't always deliver what we want. It can take some trawling through search results before the gems are found, so there are times when these more advanced search techniques come into their own - the trick is knowing when to deploy the tools, and which ones to use.

Learn more from WebWise about how you can improve your internet searches.

Hajar Javaheri explores the history of search engines.

Try the advanced features on these search engines:


  • Comment number 1.

    There's actually a lot more you can do with image search nowadays. You can actually do it the other way round: You give Google an image, and it'll tell you what it is.

    Take for example this picture that I posted on [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator] my blog. It shows concept art from a video game, but unless you played that game you wouldn't know what it is.

    If you now go to Google's image search and click on the little camera icon next to the entry field, you can enter a URL (or upload an image). If you do this for the picture above, you'll get to a page that shows you: "Best guess: Diablo 3 Barbarian" (together with similar pictures and links to further information). Diablo 3 is the name of the game. Barbarian is the name of the class. It identified it correctly.

    You could probably use this even to take pictures of random bugs and spiders you find in the house to see if Google could identify them. Pretty cool.


More from this blog...

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.