Searching On the Web

Now that you know how to surf the Web, how do you find the precise information you’re looking for? Fortunately, there are numerous sites that help you search the Web for the specific information you want. Not surprisingly, these are among the most popular sites on the Internet.

This tutorial is all about searching the Web. You’ll learn the best places to search, and the best ways to search. I’ll even help you cheat a little by listing some of the most popular sites for different types of information. So pull up a chair, launch your web browser, and loosen up those fingers— it’s time to start searching!

How to Search the Web

Most Internet search sites are actually search engines. They employ special software programs (called spiders or crawlers) to roam the Web automatically, feeding what they find back to a massive bank of computers. These computers then build giant indexes of the Web, hundreds of millions of pages strong.

When you perform a search at a search engine site, your query is sent to the search engine’s index. (You never actually search the Web itself, you only search the index that was created by the spiders crawling the Web.) The search engine then creates a list of pages in its index that match, to one degree or another, the query you entered.

  • Constructing a Query - Almost every search site on the Web contains two basic components—a search box and a search button. You enter your query—one or more keywords that describe what you’re looking for—into the search box, and then click the Search button (or press the Enter key) to start the search.

The search site then returns a list of web pages that match your query; click any link to go directly to the page in question. How you construct your query determines how relevant the results will be that you receive. It’s important to focus on the keywords you use, because the search sites look for these words when they process your query.

Your keywords are compared to the web pages the search site knows about; the more keywords found on a web page, the better the match. Choose keywords that best describe the information you’re looking for—using as many keywords as you need.

Don’t be afraid of using too many keywords; in fact, using too few keywords is a common fault of many novice searchers. The more words you use, the better idea the search engine has of what you’re looking for.

  • Using Wildcards - But what if you’re not quite sure which word to use? For example, would the best results come from looking for auto, automobile, or automotive?

Many search sites let you use wildcards to “stand in” for parts of a word that you’re not quite sure about. In most instances, the asterisk character (*) is used as a wildcard to match any character or group of characters, from its particular position in the word to the end of that word.

So, in the previous example, entering auto* would return all three words—auto, automobile, and automotive (as well as automatic, autocratic, and any other word that starts with “auto”).

  • Searching for an Exact Phrase - Normally, a multiple-word query searches for web pages that include all the words in the query, in any order. There is a way, however, to search for an exact phrase. All you have to do is enclose the phrase in quotation marks.

For example, to search for Monty Python, don’t enter Monty Python. Instead, enter “Monty Python”—surrounded by quotation marks. Putting the phrase between quotation marks returns results about the comedy troupe, while entering the words individually returns pages about snakes and guys named Monty.

Where to Search

Now that you know how to search, where should you search?

There’s one obvious choice, and a lot of alternatives. The Most Popular Search Site on the Web The best (and most popular) search engine today is Google. Google is easy to use and extremely fast and returns highly relevant results. That’s because it indexes more pages than any other site—billions and billions of pages, if you’re counting.

Most users search Google several times a week, if not several times a day. The Google home page is a marvel of simplicity and elegant web page design. All you have to do to start a search is to enter one or more keywords into the search box and then click the Google Search button.

This returns a list of results ranked in order of relevance. Click a results link to view that page. Google also offers a variety of advanced search options to help you fine-tune your search. These options are found on the Advanced Search page, which you get to by clicking the Advanced Search link on Google’s home page.

To narrow your search results, all you have to do is make the appropriate selections from the options present. Another neat thing about Google is all the specialty searches it offers. Here some of these “hidden” search features:

Google also owns a number of related websites that might be of interest. Of particular interest are Blogger, home to tens of thousands of personal weblogs, and YouTube, the Web’s premiere site for posting and viewing videos.

Other Search Sites

Although Google is far and away the most popular search engine, many other search engines provide excellent (and sometimes different) results. These search engines include:

Searching for People and Businesses

As good as Google and other search sites are for finding specific web pages, they’re not always that great for finding people. (Although, to be fair, Google is getting much better at this.) When there’s a person (or an address or a phone number) you want to find, you need to use a site that specializes in people searches.

People listings on the web go by the common name of white pages directories, the same as traditional white pages phone books. These directories typically enable you to enter all or part of a person’s name and then search for his address and phone number.

Many of these sites also let you search for personal email addresses and business addresses and phone numbers. The best of these directories include:

In addition, all of these white pages directories also serve as yellow pages directories for looking up businesses. They’re one-stop search sites for any individual or business you want to look up!