NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, August 2005
Search Engine Tips and Tricks
by Richard Johnson, member of TUGNET, California.
rj@theskillspool.org (click to email author)

Part 2: Beyond Google
As helpful as is Google, it's a mistake to overlook the other search services. There's nothing wrong with turning first to Google (or another search service of your choice). It's a good idea, however, to pick out and bookmark at least a few competitors, for special situations. A good place to start is the search comparison chart at http://www.infopeople.org/search/chart.html.

Both MSN Search and Yahoo! Search have undergone major recent changes, and both merit special attention. MSN Search (search.msn.com) now affords access to Encarta Encyclopedia, with a two-hour “free pass” that will be renewed with every new query. Check out also its Near Me option (akin to Google Local), that will point you to services and events in your area or another area you specify.

Yahoo! Search (search.yahoo.com) has brought out My Web to track past searches. My Web will save both the links and the actual pages (so you'll still have access should the page be removed from the Web). Yahoo will organize these saved pages as bookmarks. For details, go to myweb.search.yahoo.com/myresults/benefits.

Many of the following search tools are in beta, and so may become even more useful after further development. All are free to individuals.

Comparing and Augmenting Search Results
You might be surprised to learn that if you compare the top ten results from any two search engines, fewer than half of those results will likely be found at both. An excellent way to see what either Google, Yahoo, or Ask Jeeves comes up with (that your standby didn't!) is to use the Jux2 tool, at http://www.jux2.com.

Yagoohoo!gle (yagoohoogle.com) presents side-by-side Yahoo and Google results.
Another way to go is to type in your query at Topic Hunter (http://www.jux2.com), and then click on the names of any of the sixteen search engines Topic Hunter supports.

Copernic Meta is the free successor to what formerly was a fee-only download. A Windows Deskbar or browser toolbar will facilitate simultaneous searches on multiple search engines. http://www.copernic.com/en/products/meta

Special-Purpose Search Engines

When it comes to shopping, the Web can do far more than take your money. To help you decide how to spend it, a new search engine still in beta, Become (http://www.become.com), zeroes in on buying guides and product reviews (although you will find merchant links also, generally farther down).

Once you have a better idea of what to buy, you'll want to use one of the multitudinous price comparison sites. Pricing Central (pricingcentral.com), acts like a clearing-house, utilizing the resources of many price search engines. For books, music CDs, and videos, AddALL (http://www.addall.com) and Books Price (http://www.booksprice.com) figure in shipping costs for your location. AddAll has a slightly larger bookstore database, but Books Price will calculate costs for multiple purchases.

If you like to shop by catalog, take a look at Catalog City (http://www.catalogcity.com). For specials at local brick-and-mortar establishments, try Cairo (http://www.cairo.com) or ShopLocal (http://www.shoplocal.com).

Other Special-Purpose Engines
For straightforward answers to simple questions, check out Brainboost, at http://www.brainboost.com. Promoted as an “answer engine,” Brainboost asks you for plain-English questions (not search words), and its results are answers, not links. (A link will accompany each answer, for further research.) Another popular tool for factual information is Answers.com (http://www.answers.com), which de-emphasizes links even further and gives more extensive answers. An optional free download lets you bring up Answers.com results by alt-clicking any word on your screen, on or off the Web.

For deciphering acronyms, you can't do better than Acronym Finder (http://www.acronymfinder.com), with definitions for over 398,000 acronyms. Optional tools (for various browsers) will allow you to view a definition almost instantly.

To take advantage of Amazon's Search Inside the Book capability, you may want to use A9 Search, at http://a9.com. (A9 also features search history tracking.)

For news there are many good choices. BBC News at news.bbc.co.uk is excellent for international news, as is World Press at http://www.worldpress.org. For old news (as early as 1990) without the fee charged by other sources, try The Seattle Times, at archives.seattletimes.nwsource.com/web/index.html. For the most up-to-date news, AlltheWeb Advanced at http://snipurl.com/eljf is excellent, and will let you sort and filter results prior to your search. CNN.com (http://news.yahoo.com) are good general-purpose news sources. Most or all of these allow you to set up news alerts to email you of new developments in issues of interest.

These days almost every search engine and its cousin have an associated toolbar for free download. In addition to the Copernic Meta toolbar (covered above), a few you might want to consider are:

Y!Q DemoBar. I really like this one, in part because it's small enough to fit easily on the same line as my Internet Explorer address bar. (To squeeze it onto that line you may want to “unlock” the IE toolbar, using the right-click menu, and shrink the address bar. You can adjust Y!Q's size, using its options menu.) The DemoBar's sole function is to enable context-based searching. Clicking it will yield results related to page text you've highlighted, optionally modified by text you've typed in its search box. yq.search.yahoo.com/splash/demobar.html

Earthlink Toolbar. This is available to anyone (not just Earthlink subscribers). Its major innovation is its Scamblocker option, to guard against phishing. It also offers a Google search box, a pop-up blocker, and clickable changing news headlines. Like Y!Q, it can be shrunk down to fit on the same line as your address bar. http://www.earthlink.net/home/software/toolbar

MSN Toolbar. Features pop-up blocking and search term highlighting. Can be expanded to implement desktop search and form filling/password management. toolbar.msn.com/default.aspx

A9 Toolbar. Gives you the ability to add notes to Web pages. Also includes pop-up blocking, search history tracking, online bookmark creation, search term highlighting, and site info. (Some have found it difficult to use.) toolbar.a9.com

Yahoo! Toolbar. The big brother of the Y!Q DemoBar. Includes the DemoBar's functionality, and in addition facilitates Yahoo's My Web (see above) and spyware protection. beta.toolbar.yahoo.com

Google Addenda
Overall, the best search engine is still Google. (See Part 1.) Here are nine more Google tips and tricks:

An adaptation of Google Maps will search for rental and for-sale housing around the country, in a price range you specify. For each result you'll be told whether a picture is available. Then if you choose you can link to the original listing (which is from Craigslist). Go to http://www.paulrademacher.com/housing.

Google's Search by Number feature will give you information about numbers you type in the search box. The most useful example of this was covered in last month's article--entering a phone number to use Google as a reverse directory. But other numbers can also yield valuable information. For instance, entering just the area code will bring up a link to a map of the area. You can also get information by entering UPS, USPS, and FedEx tracking numbers, Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs), and even UPC codes.

The Google Calculator can do anything your stand-alone calculator can do, and a lot more. It's especially useful for conversions, by employing the operator “in.” For example, to find the number of teaspoons in two cups, you'd type “teaspoons in 2 cups” [without the quotes] in the Google search box. For myriad other uses go to http://www.google.com/help/calculator.html.

The best way to use Google News is via its Advanced New Search, at snipurl.com/elhs. This allows you to sort by date, limit by news source or location, specify the date range, and easily modify your search in other ways.

When typing a phrase into the search box, as with other search engines, you enclose the phrase in quotation marks. To save yourself keystrokes when there's no text following the phrase, omit the ending quotation mark. (Google will fill that in for you.)

Google Maps (covered in Part 1) can be re-centered by double-clicking, but more useful is the user's ability to drag the map area--thousands of miles if necessary!

In using Google Local (also covered in Part 1), be sure to click on the links for the establishments of interest, to disclose useful data about them (which can vary considerably). Also: You can limit your Google Local searches as you please. For example, you might enter “restaurant inexpensive view,” to find a low-cost restaurant with a good view.

Google's new My Search History will from any computer let you view by date or easily find anything you've ever searched for after signing up. Together with each of your past search queries you'll find the links you used from that search's results. (Cf. Yahoo's My Web, above.) For details, go to http://www.google.com/searchhistory/help.html.

Some of you who attempted to implement the minus sign as a stand-in for NOT, in accordance with the suggestion in Part 1, may have had a problem resulting from the line break in the printed article. This will be resolved if you make sure there's no space between the minus sign and the (following) search term to which it applies.

I've been asked why in Part 1 I described how to use Google to find a business but not a residence. The answer is that the syntax for locating a residence is rather complicated. You'll find it at http://www.google.com/help/features.html#wp. Three points, though: (1) The necessary elements must be typed in the order given. (2) Don't insert extra elements (like a street address, even if you know it). (3) In spite of what Google lays out, don't bother inserting commas between the elements. Note that both the business and residence search will include handy Google Maps links with your results.

Richard Johnson is a writer and editor, and founder/administrator of FREE FOR ALL The Skills Pool, a 29-year-old membership organization (http://theskillspool.org).

There is no restriction against any non-profit group using this article as long as it is kept in context with proper credit given the author. The Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an international organization of which this group is a member, brings this article to you.

Click here to return to top