Search tools are constantly changing and there are, let’s face it, a million ways to search for information online. There’s also a healthy debate around library search’s reliance on Boolean operators and other specialist (and often legacy) techniques. We still have a ways to go until we’ve found the perfect balance between simplicity and advanced techniques in web searching (and, incidentally, if you’re interested in this area I recommend Dave Pattern’s posts about University of Huddersfield’s experiences with Summon).
I used to use various search cheatsheets in training but lost track after Google’s umpteenth search update so I was happy to stumble upon a bunch of new guides to search engines. Like all lists on this blog, this is a work in progress and suggestions are welcome.
Daniel Russell is a research scientist at Google and recently gave a talk to a group of investigative journalists about smart Google search techniques John Tedesco, an investigative reporter, has written these up in a handy summary on his blog.
Possibly as a result of the large amount of interest Tedesco’s post generated, Google have now announced a series of online search classes.
And if Google is not your data-mining bag of chips there’s also these handy guide to Duck Duck Go’s search shortcuts on Ghacks.net
Wolfram Alpha remains a specialist search tool and I haven’t really seen a comprehensive starter guide to it in my travels. The knowledge base has a *lot* of helpful examples to refer to though. In my experience, the dictionary search results are far superior to the ones returned on Google and I’m sure there are plenty of other reasons to use it for non-statistical searches so I’m on the lookout for an introductory guide to add to the list.
Like I mentioned above, this is a list in progress so any new guides discovered will be added (there are plenty of search tools not yet covered). If you’ve found any guides that you’d like to share, feel free to add them in the comments.
There are reams (or the digital equivalent) of advice about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) available online, but a lot of it relies on popular SEO myths and ill-advised attempts to game the system in order to boost search engine rankings. But for those of us who are simply interested in improving the discoverability of websites, it’s harder to find straightforward advice without all the bogus tips and SEO myth pepetuation.
If you are delivering services online, it is helpful to keep up to date with how search engines index and present search results. The biggest factor that no amount of trickery can avoid, is that content is king. Providing regular new content with descriptive titles is the simplest and best way to improve your search engine ranking. Another step in the right direction is to make sure that you use clean and descriptive URLs rather than the non-descriptive dynamic URLs produced by some Content Management Systems.
Link referrals is an important but contentious area, if only because it’s open to abuse. While manipulating this by creating link farms or other dubious means will rightly get your hand slapped by the search engine, there is undeniably value in participating in the ecosystem of the web by having people link to your site.
Google occasionally rolls out updates to its search algorithm with vague names such as Caffeine (which introduced real-time search) and Panda. The Panda update, in 2011, was aimed at reducing the rankings of link and content farming sites. And apparently there are still more changes afoot.
To find out what’s happening under the hood of the Google search engine, the best place to start is right at the source with the Google Technology overview and the Webmaster Guidelines (taking these with the required grains of salt, of course).
This post has focused on Google search, but if you’re more generally interested in the technology behind search engines, have a look at the tech running other, open search platforms such as Duck Duck Go or YaCy. Or you can go back and have a look at where it all began.
Everyone’s favourite underdog search engine DuckDuckGo has officially teamed up with Wolfram|Alpha , they just announced. DuckDuckGo already utilises the Wolfram|Alpha API, but this will mean further integration and other neat developments in the near future.
There are plenty of reasons to keep an eye on social media rankings, from finding out what’s being said about your organisation (or anything else for that matter) to measuring the impact of a particular promotional campaign.
Menae is a new tool that let’s you check your website’s ranking across a number of avenues. It gives you a search engine score, social media score, traffic score, social bookmarking score and blog score. Fun to play with but it could sure use an ‘About’ page and it’s a new entry into a pretty crowded field. SocialScan offers something similar by checking a URL against the main social sites, including Delicious, StumbleUpon, Digg and Twitter.
For a more general overview based on keywords, username or trends, Social Mention is hard to beat. You can set up an alert to receive regular updates.
And for making the case, the Search Engine Journal explains why social networking is important for SEO.
Aardvark describes itself as ‘social search’; whereby questions are answered by a person (or people) rather than a webpage. More specifically, they propose that seeking answers from people in your ‘networks’ can be more effective and provide better information than reliance on answers from the ‘documents’ that search engines return.
While the platform doesn’t seem to be exactly heaving with activity since they were acquired by Google early last year, it has its loyal fans and questions get answered in good time. However, the real strength of Aardvark is in the instant messaging and mobile access options in what is just generally an impressive but neglected platform.
Aardvark is a more flexible Q&A service than some of the other main players. While the website vark.com is a good starting point, it soon becomes clear that the main emphasis of Aardvark is on mobile access; (via iPhone app) and integration with instant messaging.
ReadWriteWeb has printed a top ten guide to RSS and Syndication Technologies for the year, including mobile and web-based RSS tools (the article has been republished on NYTimes.com but the original has a better comments section).
There are a number of Question and Answer websites aiming to fill a gap left by search engine algorithms by taking a crowdsourcing approach to references services and over the coming weeks we will be reviewing a few of them.
Q&A sites are based on the premise that people answer questions better than search engines do and I’m sure this is often true. But, as Yahoo! Answers regularly demonstrates, the wisdom of crowds is not guaranteed. How do you ensure the quality of answers, or even the questions themselves?
We will be looking at how these services approach issues such as these, starting with Quora. Continue reading
It currently works with the following browsers: Chrome v5/6, Firefox v3, Safari v5 for Mac and Internet Explorer v8. The main benefit seems to be speed in accessing results but there haven’t been any claims of a positive impact on accuracy. Saving between two and five seconds per search really wasn’t top of my list of priorities. Having said that, I’m curious to try it out on Google Scholar and am already imagining how predictive search might be realised in library catalogues.
You do have the option to turn the feature off from your preferences, though Google Instant is only currently available from the Google.com domain and if you are signed into a Google Account. Personally, I tend to use my browser’s search box rather than navigating to the search page anyway so the impact on my search habits won’t be much.
The mobile version is expected soon, which is an environment where speed can have a big impact and I’m curious as to hear more about the reasoning behind this development and where it will go from here. As a first impression though, it made me wish Google adopted more of the mantra, if it ain’t broke..