Are You a Good Googler?

Are You a Good Googler?

Jeremy Caplan, Don Willmott

You know a site has the right stuff when its name becomes a verb. In just three years, Google has evolved from a nascent Net presence into a daily destination for millions who use it for fast answers from the Net. Even Yahoo! uses it, providing Google results to augment its own directory. We Google our own names to see what the world can find out about us; we Google potential second dates to see if they told the truth on the first one; we even enjoy “Googlewhacking,” the game of trying to come up with two-word Google queries that return only one result. (It’s harder than it sounds.)

But Google is much more than just a tool for finding sites, and most Web surfers barely scratch the surface of its capabilities. If you know what you’re doing, Google can help you accomplish everything from looking up phone numbers to tracking down images. Here’s how to Google as you’ve never Googled before.

Use Quotation Marks

This is our nominee for all-time most useful hint. Search for Tiger Woods, and Google will give you about 450,000 results. Yikes. Search for “Tiger Woods” in quotation marks, you’ll get 342,000 results. That’s still too many (keep reading!), but at least none will relate to animals or forests. When you know the exact name or phrase you’re looking for, quotation marks can only help.

Learn the Three Fundamentals

Google doesn’t drag you down with complicated search strings and dreaded Boolean operators. Just remember these three things. Use a plus sign in your search request only when an everyday word is crucial to the search (Godfather +I). And use a minus sign if you want to exclude certain terms from a search. A search for bass -fish will steer you away from the water and toward the world of music. (Be sure to leave a space before those plus or minus signs, but not after them.) Focused results are the goal.

Search by Category

Many Googlers don’t realize that in addition to its search box, Google has its own simple Web directory. Click the Directory tab on Google’s home page to bring it up, and then start drilling down through the categories that interest you. It’s basic—not comprehensive, the way Yahoo!’s is—and useful when you’re just starting your research.

Search Related Sites

You’ve finally found the exact kind of site you were looking for. Congratulations, but don’t stop now. Use the “related” command, coupled with the URL, to find more sites like it (related:www.tigerwoods.com returns 23 excellent sites about golf).

Search From the Inside Out

If you’ve found a site you need, chances are that some of the sites that link to it will also be useful to you. Enter link:www.tigerwoods.com, for example, and you’ll get back 954 sites. (You can also use this technique to find out who, if anyone, is linking to your own personal site.)

Indulge Your Obsessive Streak

If you can’t bear to miss out on a single Tiger Woods site, enter allinurl:tigerwoods to get a list of all the sites with “tigerwoods” in their URL. Instead of getting thousands of pages that mention Tiger somewhere in them, you’ll get only those sites that actually feature the word in their Web address. The result: a more targeted search—in this case, a relatively manageable 1,460 results to look through.

Search Within a Particular Site

For fine-tuned research, you can limit your search to a single Web site. Want all the information about Tiger Woods featured at the site of his alma mater, Stanford? Enter tiger woods site:www.stanford.edu and get just 63 results—a nice, tight search. Another example: valve site:www. americanheart.org, for 101 entries about heart valve problems from the American Heart Association.

Bring Sites Back From the Dead

It’s a fact of Net life: Sites die. But if your dream page turns up a 404 (i.e., dead-link notice), hit the Back button and play mad scientist. Look for the Cached link at the end of the Google description. That’s a link to the backup version Google keeps of all the pages it indexes. A simple click displays its stored version. Bear in mind, though, that the page will only be current as of the day Google indexed it.

Search for Images Want to find photos of Tiger Woods but don’t want to sift through thousands of sites to find the ones with pics? Click the Images tab on Google’s home page and type in “Tiger Woods” (with the quotes) to get hundreds of swingin’ shots. Click on any one to find out more about it, to see a larger version, or to visit the site on which it was found.

Scour the Newsgroups

Long before the World Wide Web emerged, the Internet was crowded with Usenet newsgroups, in which discussions on every imaginable topic took place. They’re still out there today, and Google will search a 20-year archive of 700 million newsgroup messages for you. Just click on the Groups tab on Google’s home page. Be warned: Newsgroups can be huge and weird, so searching them can be a real time-waster unless you’re passionately interested in your search topic. For basic, top-level searches, don’t bother.

Google Last Night’s Date (Or Prepare for Tonight’s)

If you went on a first date with “John Smith” or “Mary Jones” last night, Google won’t be much help in digging up the dirt unless you give it more to go on. Put the name in quotation marks and follow it with as many specifics relating to the person that you can think of. His company. Her hometown. His college. Her profession. Keep at it, and eventually you’ll get some details about your specific John or Mary. Was your date Tiger Woods? If so, just skip the research and accept that second date.

And While You’re at It, Google Yourself

Here’s a great way to do a quick security check on your online identity. Search for your own name, of course, but also search for various permutations of your address. And try Googling your credit card numbers. If any of these things are popping up in weird places, take action.

Use Google as a Phone Book and Atlas

Enter a first and last name and a city and state to get the address and phone number of anyone listed in the phone book (for the record, we couldn’t find Tiger). You can also enter a phone number to find the related address and generate a map from Yahoo! Maps or MapQuest. Another feature: Enter a street address, city, and state to get a map of the area. Or enter the name of a business and its ZIP code to get its phone number, address, and Web site, as well as a neighborhood map.

Toss Your Dictionary in the Trash

Whenever your search includes a word that’s listed in a dictionary, Google underlines the word in its results page above the list of links offered. Click on that word and you’ll get not only definitions but also spelling corrections as necessary.

Don’t Sweat Your Near Misses

Speaking of corrections, if you misspell your search term, Google will dutifully perform a search on your cracked lexicography, but if possible it will also suggest a more popular version. Thus, the first link for your search on Tigger Woods will be Did you mean: Tiger Woods? And you’ll click on that, unless, of course, you’re a closet Winnie-the-Pooh fan.

Visit the Preferences Page

Google: Preferences [google. com/preferences] lets you set languages, the number of results you’d like to see per page, the level of family-friendly filtering you’d like to set, and more. They’re great tools for turning Google into Your Personal Google.

Googlize Your Browser

Want to make Google searching a regular habit? If you use Internet Explorer 5.0 or later, download the free Google Toolbar to put Google and some of its most important features right on your browser screen at all times. If you search several times a day, it’ll save you lots of clicks.

Giggle With Google

Go to [google.com/language_tools], and you’ll see a menu of 73 languages into which you can translate the Google interface. Wunderbar! But look at that list again. See anything unusual? Among your language choices are “Bork, bork, bork!” “Elmer Fudd,” and “Hacker.” As Elmer might say, “I’m Feewing Wucky,” or as a Klingon would growl, “jlDo’.” And by the way, if you’ve ever wondered where Google’s entertaining holiday logos come from, stop by the gallery at [google.com/holidaylogos.html] and have a look at the handiwork of 23-year-old programmer Dennis Hwang. Who knows what he’ll come up with for Monet’s birthday this year?

Copyright © 2002 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in Yahoo! Internet Life.