Browser Basics:
Search Engine

Title: Jan's Illustrated Computer Literacy 101
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A search engine is a computer program that automatically searches the Internet for web pages and makes an index of what it finds. All the major search engines index the entire text of the page.

Search box - octopusFor a simple search, a search service provides a text box for you to enter a keyword, for example  octopus . Click on the Search button and the search engine looks in its database for pages that contain that word.

The search results are displayed in a list, usually the first 10 or 25 that it found. The results will vary from day to day as pages appear and vanish on the Web.

Where you are:
JegsWorks > Lessons > Web

Before you start...

Project 1: Browser Basics     ConnectingTo subtopics
    IE InterfaceTo subtopics
    NavigatingTo subtopics
    PrintingTo subtopics
    SavingTo subtopics 
    Searching To subtopics
    icon-footprintSearch engine
    icon-footprintWeb directory
    ExercisesTo subtopics

Project 2: HTML BasicsTo subtopics


How many results?

The short answer is: probably lots! When I did a search, allowing all languages, for the English word  octopus  , the search engine AltaVista found 111400 pages that used the word. But when I entered the word  pulpo  , which is Spanish for octopus, Alta Vista found only 2767 pages. That's still a lot of pages! This also illustrates how much information on the Web is in English. If you repeat this search today, your numbers will be different - guaranteed!

Order of results

While some search engines still throw up a results list that is just a random selection of the pages found, most searches try to read your mind. They put at the top of the list the pages they think are most likely to be what you are looking for.

Each search site uses a different method to decide how likely it is that a page is what you want. Here are some features that are important in different search engines:

  • page title
  • hidden keywords: the keywords META tag in the source code (doesn't show on the page)
  • links: number of other pages that link to the page
  • frequency: number of times a search word is used on the page
  • location: how close to the top of the page a search word is used
  • nearness: how close to each other (for multiple search words)
  • click-through: number of times the page has been opened from a results list
  • money: A few search engines accept money to guarantee higher ranking in the results list.

What kinds of pages?

A search can turn up an amazing variety of sites. Search results for the English word  octopus  included a employment agency, a business selling cables, a music site, a video producer, a diving medicine page about the blue-ringed octopus, a page of underwater photos, and an environmental site. The only thing they have in common is the word octopus!

Some search sites have filters that are intended to remove offensive pages, such as pornographic sites, from the results. You may have the option of turning such a filter on and off.

Multiple words

Search results with octopus and recipeTo target your search better you can put several words in the search box. For example, to look for recipes that use octopus you could search using the two words octopus and recipe .

Some  search engines will list the pages that contain any of the words or phrases you type in the search box. Some will show only pages that have all of the words.

For example, entering  octopus recipe  in AltaVista's search box will produce pages containing either the word  octopus  or the word  recipe  anywhere on the page. AltaVista's results increased from 111400 to over 141250 using these two words. Pages with recipes moved to the top of the list since Alta Vista thinks you are more likely to be interested in pages with both words. Smart!

The same search in Google, shows only pages that contain both the word  octopus  and the word  recipe . While searching on  octopus  in Google found 138000 pages, searching on both words found only 2870 pages. A substantial difference from AltaVista! But the results in Google are more likely to be what you want.

Require a Phrase

To require the phrase octopus recipe to be on the page, you usually enclose the words in double quotes like  "octopus recipe" . Alta Vista found only 7 page that used this phrase. This phrase is probably too restrictive, since many pages that actually have recipes using octopus may not ever put the two words together in this way. But, in other situations, using an exact phrase might give you a better list of pages to look at.

Require Multiple Words/Phrases

To insist that your keyword or phrase is on the page, place a + in front of it. By using  +octopus +recipe  you require that both words appear on the page. AltaVista's results shrank to 6590 using this combination.

Eliminate Words

If you want to eliminate from the list the pages that have a certain word or phrase, place a - in front of the word or phrase. To try and remove from the results list those recipes that use raw octopus, try  +octopus +recipe -raw . Alta Vista's list shrank to 5532 entries.

Read the Help page!

You should review the Help or Tips page for any search site that you use. Every search service has its own special features and methods. You have to know the rules to play the game!

Common Features to Check for:
Capitalization    Will  Octopus  give the same results as  octopus ?
Stemming Will a search for book  also list pages with words that start with "book", like books ,  bookends , and  bookkeeper ?
Wild Cards Can you use * or some other special character to search for stemming variations? That is, can you type in book*  to find pages that include words that start with book like books ,  bookends , and  bookkeeper ?
All forms Does the search engine look for all forms of a word? If you search for  octopus  will you also see results for the plural  octopi  ? For a verb like  write  would you also see pages with the other verb forms, like  wrote ,  written , and  writing ?
AND / OR If you include two search words, like  octopus recipe  does the search engine look for pages with both octopus AND recipe, or does it look for pages with octopus OR recipe. Can you type in the AND or OR yourself to control what happens?
+ - Can you use + to require a word or phrase to be present and - to require that it not be present on the page? This has become very widely used, but there are still search sites that don't use this procedure.

Icon Step-by-Step 

Step-by-Step: Keyword Search

 Icon Step-by-Step

What you will learn:

to search using one or more words
to require a word or words be on the page
to require that a word not be on the page
to search with a phrase

Start with: IE Open

In this Step-by-Step section you will do several searches with a simulation of a search engine, called Quick Search. Your goal is to find recipes that use octopus as an ingredient.

WarningIn this simulation, you must type exactly what you are instructed to type or nothing will happen when you click the Search button. Spelling is always important, but in the simulation, spaces are important, too. If nothing happens when you click the Search button, check your spelling and look for spaces at the end or beginning or between words.

WarningThe URLs and pages shown in the search results lists are not real! I made them all up!! Only a few items will be listed on the example results lists instead of the normal 10 or 25. (Sorry, my imagination got tired.) The links will not go anywhere.

Search: One Word

You will start your search for recipes for octopus by searching with the single word  octopus .

  1. If necessary, open the page My Home Page or by using the Home button, if your browser still has that page set as home page.
  2. Quick Search - initial pageClick on the link Search the Web on the page My Home Page.

    A page opens that pretends to be a search engine named Quick Search. There is a keyword search box at the top of the page. Web directory topics are listed at the bottom. You will practice with first with keyword searching.

  3. Quick Search formType in the first text box the word  octopus  as your keyword. Leave the second box at the default choice  the Web .

  4. Quick Search results - for octopus, on the webClick the Search button. The results of the search appear in a new page.

    Note the total number of documents so you can compare with later searches.

  5. Scroll up. The search boxes at the top display what you entered to generate the list at the bottom.

    Quick Search results - labeled

    Total: Most search engines will first show the total number of documents found that match your search choices and then show 10 or 25 results at a time. If the list is longer, there will be a link of some sort to move to the next part of the list.

    Title: what shows on the Title bar. Some programs used to write web pages will automatically put something in as a temporary title, like "Write Title here". Such phrases are not helpful to the visitor, but are supposed to remind the page's author to create a title.

    Description or Quote: the first words on the page unless the page's author put a description paragraph into a special hidden tag on the page. Instead of a description, some search engines, like Google, quote the part of the page that contains your search word(s) so you can see its use in context.

    Date: when the page was updated last. This does not tell you what about the page was changed. It might be just a punctuation correction. Or it could be a complete revision of the page's contents.

    Size:  the page itself, not including all its graphics. This can give you an idea of how much information is on the page. Of course a barebones entrance page to a large site could be very small. This makes the description paragraph or page quote important to help you decide whether the site is worth looking at.

    URL: The URL of the page can provide information about what organization is providing the page. If the page won't load, go to the site's home page and try to find it by working down through the site structure. Sites get reorganized from time to time. (You can usually find the home page by typing in just the first part of the URL in the Address Bar.)

Search: Two words

You will search for pages that contain either the word  octopus  or the word  recipe .

  1. Quick Search form - octopus recipe / webAt the top of the results page, type the word  recipe  after  octopus  in the keyword box with one space between them.
  2. Leave  the Web  in the second box.

  3. Quick Search results - octopus recipe on the WebClick the Search button.

    Another results list displays. This one has a different total and different items in the list. Are these pages closer to what you seek?

Search: Required words

Many of the results you got using the one word octopus did not have anything to do with the octopus that lives in the sea. Adding  recipe  still included recipes besides ones that use octopus. Rather than read all 8749 items on the list, you will do a search that requires both words to be used on the page. That should help.

  1. Quick Search form - +octopus +recipe on the WebScroll up to the top of the results page for  octopus recipe .
  2. Leave  the Web  in the second box.
  3. Type a  +  in front of each of the two words in the keywords text box. Hint: Use the big + key at the right of the keyboard.
  4. Click the Search button.

    Quick Search results - +octopus +recipe on the WebAnother results list displays. Notice that the total number of pages has gone all the way down to 73. Each page on this list must contain the word  octopus  and the word  recipe . Of course there is still room for confusion since a page might use those words but still not have a recipe for octopus. At least the list to look at is much smaller now.

Search: Eliminate word

You want to be sure the recipe actually cooks the octopus. You will attempt to restrict the results list to pages with recipes that use octopus but not raw octopus.

  1. Quick Search form - +octopus +recipe -rawIn the keywords text box at the top of the page, type the word  -raw  after  +octopus +recipe .
  2. Click on the Search button.

    Quick Search results - +octopus +recipe -raw on the WebA new page displays which looks very similar to the previous one. The total number of results has decreased some to 56 and the third result shown is different from before. Apparently not many pages in the previous results list used the word raw. There must be a lot of people like you, who don't want their octopus to squiggle.

Search: Phrase

Sometimes there is a specific phrase that should be on the page you are looking for. It can be trickier than it looks to pick the correct phrase. But it can be worth a try. Wrap your phrase with double quotes.

  1. In the search text box type  "recipe for octopus" , including the double-quotes marks. Leave  the Web  in the Search where? box.
  2. Click on Search. The results page appears.

    There is only 1 page that uses this exact phrase. Apparently this phrase was not a very good choice!

    Quick Search results - recipe for octopus -on the Web