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How to Find What You are Searching For on the Internet

Updated on December 5, 2014
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Ms. Parker is a senior paralegal from Alabama. She earned her Bachelor's from Millsaps College in Mississippi. She freelances on the side.

by Vicki Parker

Having Internet access is one thing – knowing how to effectively use it is another. Using the Internet effectively means knowing where to look for something. It means understanding the difference between site extensions, subject directories, search engines, and the search techniques associated with a particular directory or engine. It means knowing whether you are better off with a single search engine or a meta crawler. It means understanding what you can and cannot rely on in the Cyber world as factual or reliable. It means knowing how to separate the wheat from the chaff without spending hours hitting the scroll key. Here are some basic tips to help with learn effective surfing.

Search Techniques

The first thing to know are the search operators used by the search engine you are using. For instance, Google uses quotation marks, the plus sign, the less than sign, OR, brackets, and * as a wildcard. Each symbol tells Google to perform a different search. Using a less than sign means to exclude certain sites. Using quotation marks means to return only sites containing the language verbatim. Each search engine should contain their own explanations for conducting searches. In order to search effectively, you must know them and use them. You can find Google's search operators on the link provided here.

Site Extensions

All web sites end with an extension that bear direct relevance to the type of data found on that site. For instance, .com refers to a company or a commercial site; .gov refers to a government agency. Consider eliminating extensions to narrow your search . To help you know what to eliminate, here are some of the more common site extensions:

.aero (airlines); .museum (museums); .biz (a business); .name (an individual); .coop (business cooperatives); .edu (an educational institution); .mil (a military organization); .org (a non-profit or non-commercial organization); .net (a network); and .pro (professionals such as doctors, lawyers, accountants).

Additionally, note that site extensions which end in two letters refer to a geographic location. For instance, .uk is the United Kingdom and .tv is Tuvalu (not television). An example of a search using site extensions to your advantage might be limiting a search for a college to only .edu sites. If you are looking for a college in the United Kingdom, simply Google "college". You might get some University of Kentucky sites, but those searches ENDING in .uk will be spot on.

ICANN ( can keep you up-to-date concerning the site extensions in use.

Subject Directories

A subject directory is a website that contains a compilation of related material with associated links. Said another way, it is a data base of citations, titles, and/or web sites organized by category. These compilations are put together by humans and are not the result of search criteria entered by an end user. Therefore, they are only as good as they are kept up-to-date or as thorough as the compiler made them. The most well-known example is Yahoo!

Subject directories are very valuable sources for finding information but you are not going to get a "hit" on a subject directory during web searches unless you add the word "directory" on the search line and sometimes not even then. Therefore, it is wise to become familiar with the best compilations.

Just a Few of the Valuable Subject Directories You Can Find on the World Wide Web:
- one of the largest search driven & single provider of vertical search destinations on the web
- contains excellent evaluation and guidance guides
- links to more than 15,000 sites in hundreds of subject areas
- small , but maintained by librarians with excellent academic links  

Search Engines & Search Techniques

Because no two search engines are constructed alike, they return varied results for the SAME search phrases. NEVER do just one search if you aren’t successful with it. And don’t keep trying different variations on the same word. Instead, get to know several engines and re-evaluate your search strategy. For instance, aside from the paid placements and paid inclusions, you will get totally differing results typing Singles Dating than by typing Dating Singles (However, when reversing terms, never place them in quotation marks.)

You also need to recognize that paid placement is a common practice among search engines. This means your searches may only provide you with results in order of the highest buyer. Sometimes these "ads" are placed in a box alongside the search results, and sometimes they are incorporated into the search result (which is called paid inclusion - those sneaky devils.) Unless you are looking for advertisements, which most of us aren’t, this is nothing more than a headache. Where advanced searches are permitted, you may get more precise results by excluding terms such as "ad" or "buy," but you can never totally eliminate paid placement and paid inclusion.


You can access multiple search engines simultaneously with the use of meta-tools. Meta-tools involve the use of such multi-engines as Dogpile, IX Quick, and Vivisimo. Multi-engines do not create their own databases, but rely on those gathered by other engines. While it may seem you would obtain more exhaustive results with a meta-tool, you actually get less precise results because they have arbitrary cut-off points. The value of a meta-tool is that it provides a quick overview of what is available and allows you to compare one search engine against another. However, with most meta-tools you give up advanced search options in the process.

In addition to the popular Google, below is a list of some of the main search engines, but not all them are meta-tools, and not all of them are free.  Many sites, and increasingly so, are fee based. 

It’s astounding that there are so many different access points for searching information on the Internet. Don’t limit yourself to Google, Bing, or Yahoo. There’s a vast world of knowledge just a click away. Use a meta crawler. Some of these sites tend to return more reliable data than what would be returned in a standard Google or Yahoo search.

The Invisible Web

When you receive "hits" from a search, you are not getting data bases or spreadsheets because they are not stored on the Web. Search engines only retrieve web pages. In fact, the largest part of retrievable data on the Internet is hidden in what’s been dubbed as the "invisible web." See my article entitled "What is the Invisible Web" to learn how to find hidden material.

Goodluck surfing!

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Schlein, Alan M. Find It Online: The Complete Guide to Online Research. 3rd Edition. 2003, Facts on Demand Press, Tempe Arizona.

Http:// Information Literacy: Search Strategies and Information Literacy: Depth of Search.

Http:// Uncovering the Hidden Web, Part I & II.


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    • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

      Susan Hazelton 

      7 years ago from Sunny Florida

      Extremely informative hub. Great information for helping find what you need. Up and useful.


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