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Thursday, November 3, 2005

How to Find...

Here are some approaches you can use to find different things with Google. Add your own tips in the comments.

Find Song lyrics

Try to enter a line of the song which you already know (as a phrase, using quotes), plus the word “lyrics”.

Example: “you’re still young” lyrics

You can also use a wildcard inside the phrase if you don’t know enough words to construct a meaningful phrase; this helps create a smaller result set.

Example: “you’re * young, that’s your” lyrics

 

Finding Something on a Specific Site

To find something on a given site, just use the “site:” operator. You may also use this feature of the Google Toolbar. Note that since a while, you can use folders in the URL as well.

Example: site:waxy.org/links funny video

 

Finding Authoritative Results, Like Trustworthy Software

Often when you want to find an authoritative site you may stumble upon unknown territory, and yet you want to separate friend from foe. This is especially true if you are looking for a software download and you certainly don’t want to get spyware. When you look for such things, wanting to find the “best”, you should enter only very few words, like one or two. Less is more here, because the longer the query, the more likely it is someone has been able to “spin” the results.

Example 1 (sub-optimal): bittorrent installation

Example 2 (better): bittorrent

In the second search, you give Google the chance to put more weight on “bittorrent”. It’s highly unlikely someone managed to undermine the top result for this search, as it’s much harder to optimize for one word than for many words. At the moment, only the second query returns bittorrent.com as top result.

Added to that, I also often check the PageRank of the page I’m on when I want to download something. This should by no means be the only factor in your decision, but it’s another way to build trust (a PageRank 8 site certainly is no fresh phishing domain which will be deserted in another week).

Another variant of finding authoritative sources, in case you know the vendor, is to restrict the search to a specific site using Google’s “site:” operator.

Example: “internet explorer 7” site:microsoft.com

 

Finding Unknown Words

A single word can be very powerful in the age of Google, as it may be the key to unlock a wealth of knowledge. This is what makes this one of the hardest of all search types; finding something when you don’t know its title/ product name/ word, or you totally don’t know how to spell it (so not even the Google spelling correction will help you). Like when you want to find out about a new technology you vaguely remember hearing about 2 weeks ago, but you completely forgot what it was called. Or when you heard about this movie, and you’d like to research it, but you forgot the title, and you don’t know who acts in it. You practically lost the key.

There are two basic approaches to tackle this; in the first approach is, you search for a “set” of words in the word neighborhood. Let’s say you want to know the name of a specific product that was a big economic failure. You forgot the name of this, but you know other products that failed; like “New Coke” and “Edsel.” Enter these – as many as you know – and your result page is likely to contain the missing piece of the puzzle, e.g. “BetaMax.”

Example: edsel “new coke”

In the second approach of finding the missing word, you enter the topic you are searching for. Like for our example, you could search for “Product failures” or “Famous marketing failures” and so on. While this approach is surely better known, it doesn’t always yield the direct result you want. While in our first example, “BetaMax” was right on the result page, there is no single page on the web at this moment with both the phrase “Famous marketing failures” and the word “BetaMax.”

Example: “failed products”

 

Finding Opinions

When you want to find opinions on products, Google’s Usenet search Google Groups is worth a visit. As you won’t get any “official” sites (and little spam), results are often more helpful.

Example: nokia

 

Searching for Information on Spam, Error Messages, Hoaxes, a Virus, or Citations

When you want to find out if the email in your inbox is actually spam (or a hoax), it often yields good results if you copy and paste a long quote of it into Google. I’m usually quoting only around 5-10 words, but the more “unusual ones.” For the sake of argument, let’s try finding the most “unusual phrase” in the following sentence from Alice in Wonderland:

Alice thought this a very curious thing, and she went nearer to watch them, and, just as she came up to them, she heard one of them say, “Look out, now, Five! Don¬ít go splashing paint over me like that!”

If you google for ["she heard one of them say"], you’ll get more than just Alice in Wonderland. But search for ["now, Five! Don’t go splashing"] (which are less words), you’ll get practically only Alice in Wonderland. Knowing which words to copy is especially important if you hit the 32 words barrier. And as this example shows, the approach is also useful to find out who quotes certain passages you know of.

 

Finding Quotes

There’s a wealth of quotation sites out there that can help you spice up texts (like blog posts). Appending your topic with the word “quotes” usually does the job.

Example: art quotes

Example: douglas adams quotes

 

Finding Inside Your Memory

If you want to search something in your memory and your brain lacks the necessary power to remember every detail, blogging does the job. Maybe it’s just a funny side-effect, but having a blog enables you to search through your past interests. I often search my own blog to find out if I covered website X before (say, when I want to post about a seemingly new Google Maps service, considering the fact I already mentioned dozens here).

Example: site:blog.outer-court.com maplandia

 

Find by Digging Deeper

As a Google Answers Researcher, I was often confronted with questions where the searcher already spent a bit of time at Google to find what she wanted. But it wasn’t there, not on the surface. In those cases where you’re searching for that “treasure chest” at the bottom of the sea, it helps to vary the search query words as often as possible. To do so, think of less popular variants to your word, and use a Thesaurus (like Thesaurus.com) as well.

Example 1: overweight ballet dancer

Example 2 (variant): voluptuous ballerina

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