What is a Search Engine?

A web search engine or Internet search engine is a software system that is used to find relevant websites and information on the Internet (World Wide Web) based on a search term. A user will enter a keyword or several keywords into a particular search engine and a list of results will be returned, usually with the closest match or most relevant at the top.

In the earlier days of the Internet, website owners generally had to submit their website to many search engines to be included in their databases. Now search engine software use sophisticated “crawlers” (or “bots”) which collect information and content from websites automatically. Search engine crawlers usually find new websites automatically through links from other websites. This eliminates the need for website owners needing to submit their website details to each search engine.

Some search engines specialize in particular types of websites or include images, videos and/or music. Google for example can search many different kinds of websites and types of media, such as: websites, images, maps, shopping, application, news, videos, blogs and many more.

10 Tips for better web searching

  1. Use specific terms
    Search engines understand and search for phrases (ie, a combination of words). Using just one word search terms may not work correctly sometimes as it may be too ambiguous for the search engine to understand. An example would be “guitars” – the search engine might think you want to buy a guitar or want a photo of a guitar or want to know what guitar Jimi Hendrix used. Try using 2-5 words where appropriate for best results.

  2. Take advantage of autocomplete
    Many search engines will provide suggestions as you type. These are popular terms and are likely to return relevant webpages. Try one of these before trying to term you were going to use originally.

  3. Try suggested related terms
    Many search engines now provide suggestions for related search terms at the bottom or top of the page. If you cannot find what you are looking for using your search term, try one of the search engine’s suggestions.

  4. Check spelling suggestions
    Search engines usually include a sophisticated spell checker that will not only check the word you used is spelt correctly, but will check the context of your search term and may suggest that you have used the wrong word.

  5. Try changing the order of your terms
    Although search engines will automatically try different permutations of the search term you are using (rearrange the words to find matching webpages), it might not understand what you mean occasionally. You may have worded a sentence a little strangely – eg, used “Yoda phrasing”. Try rewording the sentence if you are not having any luck with the current search term.

  6. Use the minus operator (-) to narrow the search
    Sometimes you may search for something and get something completely unexpected as the word may have several meanings or be the name of a company as well as a generic word. An example would be “apple”. If you do a search for “apple” you are likely to end up with lots of information about Apple Inc, not the fruit. You can use the minus operator to filter out results referring to the computer and electronics company, for example “apple -computers” or you can even use several minus operators if you are still getting results about Apple’s other products, for example: “apple -computers -ipods”.

  7. Use quotation marks for exact phrases
    Quotation marks can be used around the phrase or part of the phrase which will tell the search engine that these words need to be in this exact order. For example if you were searching for lyrics, particularly if you only new a few words, using the exact phrase search would be ideal. An example search phrase would be “shine bright like a diamond” lyrics.

  8. Don’t use common words and punctuation
    Common words, particularly articles such as the and in are often ignored by search engines. Modern search engines will usually “intelligently” filter them out, know when and when not to use them. An example of when they should be used is in an exact search phrase (see tip 7). This is a tip to not worry too much about, as search engines like Google are smart enough to understand context when it comes to stop words.

  9. Capitalization
    Most search engines do not distinguish between uppercase and lowercase, even within quotation marks. This is sometimes an issue when you are looking for a word that is also an acronym for something or vice-versa. In these situations, it is best to provide an extra descriptive word to help the search engine work out what you are looking for. For example, you might add the term “band” or maybe even “American band” to help the search engine with the ambiguity.

  10. Synonyms
    Search engines such as Google understand synonyms and alternate spelling of words. For example “PC” and “computers”, depending on context may show similar results. Occasionally, a word might not be picked up as a synonym, so substituting words can help if you are not getting the webpages you are looking for

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