IT intelligence: Using search engines

Robin Fisk on a more sophisticated approach to using search engines.

Computers are frustratingly logical - they do exactly what you tell them, but not necessarily what you want. Software makes computers useable, and good software understands that humans will use it. So when you type a search phrase into search engine Google, its software tries to interpret what you meant from what you typed. It filters and sorts the results from the squillion pages it has searched and shows what it thinks will be the most relevant links first.

And have you ever wondered why it takes less than a second to search the web, but to search on your own computer can take many minutes?

I don't know what the most popular search phrases are at the moment - I would hazard a guess at something faintly depressing, such as 'Big Brother' - but if you want specific answers to specific questions, you can make much better use of the search engine if you add a little sophistication to your searching. Here are a few tips from Google.

You can search within a website by typing, for example, 'robin fisk site: www.fiskbrett.co.uk', which is useful if the website itself has no search facility. This also works with just the last part of the domain: 'grants site:org.uk' searches for the word grants in sites ending '.org.uk'.

You can use double quotation marks to restrict the search to that exact phrase. Searching for '"back to black"' gives you six million results, compared with the 175 million returned from typing 'back to black' without quotation marks.

You can use the minus sign to indicate that you're not interested in pages containing a particular word. For example, 'jobs fundraising - finance' will find sites that include jobs and fundraising but not finance.

And if you want to find which sites link to your organisation (this is one way Google ranks your site), type 'link:www.orgname.org.uk'.

 - Robin Fisk is managing director of software company Fisk Brett

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