Search Engine Tutorials

Looking for help on how to use search engines better? This page provides a guide to key material within Search Engine Watch, resources across the web and articles written about searching better.

Select a topic below to jump to any section directly
Within Search Engine WatchOnline Resources
Articles From 2004200320022001 & Earlier

Within Search Engine Watch

Search Engine Math
This teaches you the basic commands that are all most people need to improve their searches.

Power Searching For Anyone
This teaches you advanced commands to help you better control your searches.

Search Assistance Features
Several search engines offer special search assistance features that many users overlook. This page explains the ones that are particularly useful.

Online Resources

Search Engine Showdown

Search Engine Showdown is produced by writer and Montana State University Reference Librarian Greg R. Notess. In it, you’ll find good content, ranging from organized comparison charts, reviews, strategies to searching and more. In particular, Notess does long-standing surveys on search engine sizes and dead links, as well as providing tutorials and noting search “inconsistencies” for some search engines — when they don’t operate the way they are supposed to. The site is updated on a regular basis.


Produced by writer Tara Calishain, this site provides great coverage of news and opinion on search and research tools.

Pandia Search Central

Here you’ll find an extensive search tutorial, a guide to search engines and search resources, “Q-cards” with searching tips for major search engines, plus the ability to search Pandia’s version of the Open Directory or to meta search.

Free Pint

A free newsletter that comes out twice per month, Free Pint always seems to be something useful here relating to searching or doing research on the web.

Google Weblog

Are you Google-obsessive? Then Aaron Swartz’s site with posts about all things Google might be for you.

Finding It Online: Web Search Strategies˜debflanagan/main.html

Tutorial on using search engines, subject directories, and specialty databases to find information on the Internet fast and effectively.

Searching The World Wide Web

Comprehensive guide to searching the web.

The Spider’s Apprentice

Up-to-date information and tips on how to search the web effectively.

LLRX is a unique, free Web journal dedicated to providing legal and library professionals with the most up-to-date information on a wide range of Internet research and technology-related issues, applications, resources and tools. Don’t let the focus on legal issues fool you — it’s an excellent resource for searchers in all fields.

TVC Alert

TVC Alert, a free weekday research news bulletin published by legal librarian and search expert Genie Tyburski, features information industry news affecting library and legal professionals who conduct research on the Internet. Genie also offers tested research strategies for finding information of potential interest to library and legal professionals, and regularly reviews quality Web sites. TVC Alert is a companion to Genie’s The Virtual Chase web site, which is loaded with useful information for searchers.


This is a Search Engine Watch-like site for France and French-speakers. There are search tips, guides to major search engines, comparison testing and more. An outstanding resource that makes me wish I’d had more than a year of French.

Articles From 2004

NOTE: Article links often change. In case of a bad link, use the publication’s search facility, which most have, and search for the headline.

An Extreme Searcher’s Guide to the Best of the Web
SearchDay, Feb. 11, 2004

One of the world’s foremost super searchers has distilled his extensive and wide-ranging knowledge into an essential guide to the web’s highest quality resources.

When a Search Engine Isn’t Enough, Call a Librarian
New York Times, Feb. 5, 2004

I love librarians and couldn’t agree more with this article, which outlines how librarians have maintained a role as “plan B” for when a search engine fails to come through. Search engines do not have the total sum of human knowledge, and we found information without them for the vast majority of our history. I’m glad to have them, but I also understand that all the other tools I always used still remain useful.

By the way, a search for “what was the name of ross perot’s political party?” brought up the answer (The Reform Party) on Google within seconds, and from authoritative sources such as CNN, the InfoPlease facts database, MSN Encarta and the US Department of State. So despite this being the story’s opening anecdote of search engine failure (the librarian resorted to an encyclopedia), Google at least did fine in my check. But in other searches, I might reach for my own encyclopedia, as well. (permalink to this item)

Hidden Google Tools
SearchDay, Jan. 28, 2004

Even if you consider yourself a Google expert, these ‘hidden’ tools and resources let you push the search engine’s capabilities to the max.

Happy Google Hacks Week 2004 #2: Search Sinker
ResearchBuzz, Jan. 20, 2004

Ever wish you could help Google understand that a particular word in your query is more important than another? Here’s a handy form to let you do that. You can also see the results to learn how to do this yourself — in short, repeat the word you want to prioritize.

Super Searchers on Madison Avenue
SearchDay, Jan. 6, 2004

In the high pressure world of advertising, researchers need to be both good and fast. In the most recent addition to the Super Searcher series, some of Madison Avenue’s best information sleuths share their secrets

Articles From 2003

Is Google good for you?
BBC, Dec. 19, 2003

BBC technology columnist Bill Thompson plans to break his Google addiction in hopes of finding more refined search tools that he’s sure exist. The truth is somewhere in between. Many people are indeed addicted to Google and fail to seek other resources, when they should. But Google isn’t exactly sickly sweet Coke or fast food for search. It still manages to provide a decent meal much of the time.

You shouldn’t feel you need to “give up” Google because its somehow “bad” for you, any more than you should give up any search engine that is working for you. But when things don’t taste right for a particular query, yes! Get out of the restaurant and try something new.

The second URL leads to a follow-up article by Thompson, as he pursues his New Year’s resolution, exploring some of the many alternative search tools out there. (permalink to this item)

Google generation needs fun toys
USA Today, Dec. 14, 2003

Ugh. Just when you thought Google couldn’t be put on a higher pedestal, now we get an attempt to christen an entire “Google Generation.” These are kids and teens used to being able to access facts (remember, some facts, not all of them) quickly via search engines (of which Google is but one).

Not so sure of the attempt to then tie this into buying the right toys. However, the idea that there’s a generation that assumes everything is on the web and only a search away is correct — and somewhat sad. Most of the world’s knowledge is not on the internet, so if you want to be hip and hot about locating information, you’ll understand how to use other information resources such as, hmm, a library.

What Happened To My Searches On Google?, Dec. 7, 2003

Many webmasters have found that recent changes at Google have hurt them. But does all the hue and cry over Google’s recent algorithm change have any impact on searchers? There are some developments worth noting, and this article takes a Q&A approach to examine them.

20 Great Google Secrets
PC Magazine, Oct. 28, 2003,4149,1306756,00.asp

Even if you use Google regularly, you may find some useful search tips in this article from Google Hacks coauthor Tara Calishain.

Search the Web More Efficiently
Pandia, October 2003

Multipart article with a variety of useful tips on how to search better.

Using Google to Search Your Personal Blogsphere
SearchDay, Sept. 29, 2003

Adding a free ‘blogs I read’ search box to your own weblog provides your readers with an easy way to use Google to search the web, your site or just the blogs you read.

Search Engines Uncover Compromising Documents
SearchDay, Aug. 19, 2003

Using a search engine and free software tools, it’s possible to dig up hidden — even deleted — information in documents posted to public web sites.

Google Inconsistencies
Search Engine Showdown, Aug. 17. 2003

Covers why various types of searches at Google may not operate in the way you expect them to, based on how Google’s help pages describe.

Fraud, Scams and Misinformation on the Web
SearchDay, Aug. 13, 2003

Although the web is rife with bogus pages and deceptive ‘information,’ it’s surprising that even content from typically reliable, authoritative sources can’t always be trusted.

Gems from the Congressional Research Service
SearchDay, Aug. 12, 2003

High quality, non-partisan research created for members of the U.S. Congress is freely available on the web — if you know where to search for it.

Google Field Search Problems
SearchEngineShowdown, July 10, 2003

I’m glad Greg Notess wrote this up — I meant to for the newsletter earlier this month but ran short of time. Yes, the intitle and inurl commands are definitely broken at Google, which the company acknowledges. They told me at the end of June that this was anticipated to be a temporary problem and one caused by system upgrades. Supposedly, it will be corrected in the near future.

Who Cares About Information Quality?
SearchDay, June 17, 2003

Who cares about reliable, up-to-date information? For best results, you should ask yourself this very important question before beginning your search.

Maximum Google
PC World, June 2003
— no longer online —

Article has 25 tips on using Google in ways you might not know about.

Why Google Hacks is a Bestseller
SearchDay, May 22, 2003

Google Hacks is loaded with geeky tips and tweaks, but its real strength lies in its readability and genuine appeal to all searchers, regardless of skill level.

Search engine secrets revealed
BBC, May 18, 2003

After studying over 600 user queries, Penn State University researchers advise that the best strategy is to become familiar with one search engine and use its more advanced features to restructure your queries, rather than try other search engines. I haven’t read the study myself yet, but I still wouldn’t discount the value of trying other search engines.

Misquoting Google
Poynteronline, May 1, 2003

I see the types of mistakes mentioned in this article made all the time. If you’re going to cite how many matches Google (or other search engines) come up with, you need to be very careful that you understand what exactly happened when you conducted your search.

How to Succeed as an Information Professional
SearchDay, May 14, 2003

Ever dreamed of being paid to search? A new book provides a comprehensive roadmap for turning your dream of being a professional searcher into a successful reality.

Making Search Fun with Internet Scavenger Hunts! Web Search Guide, April 2003

Want to teach students how to search better? Why not send them on an internet scavenger hunt? Information on how these work and ways to find existing ones you can tap into.

Honing Your Web Searching Skills
SearchDay, Mar. 25, 2003

Want to sharpen your Internet searching skills? A series of “teach yourself” tutorials developed by a group of subject and information experts offers a first-rate learning experience for novices and experts alike.

New Allies in the Fight Against Research by Googling
The Chronicle Of Higher Education, March 21, 2003

Before Google there were libraries. And libraries contain unique resources that remain valid, despite the omniscience incorrectly associated with Google and search engines in general, by some students. A look at how librarians are trying to raise awareness of other information resources that are available.

Hunting for Google’s Cache, Feb. 10, 2003

Darn! Google didn’t cache it. Well, maybe they did, and you just need to know how to look more closely for the cached copy. Greg Notess shows you how.

No Charge: Public Libraries Provide Full-Text Access to Databases!
SearchDay, Jan. 15, 2003

A persistent myth says that you can find “everything” on the web. Not even close! Fortunately, many public libraries offer free access to a wealth of online databases that are often much higher quality than what you can (or can’t) find on the web.

The Chain of Demand
Searcher, Jan. 2003
— no longer online —

Wow. US Secretary of State Colin Powell apparently has no encyclopedias, dictionaries or reference materials in his office, since the web — and in particular search engines — can provide it all. Well, my Random House Handbook and AP Style Guide still sit happily on my shelf and get the occasional use. Yeah, search engines are great, but they remain one tool — not the only tool, for your reference needs. Barbara Quint looks at Powell’s statement and anticipates librarians feeling concerned. She advocates not a “back to books” campaign but instead a different way of delivering information electronically.

Articles From 2002

Using Search Engines to Fill in the Blank
SearchDay, Dec. 10, 2002

Rather than agonizing over formulating the perfect query, take advantage of the power of search engines to easily “fill in the blank” for the answer to many types of questions.

Ferrari Searching on a Volkswagen Budget
SearchDay, December 4, 2002

Don’t let the “high cost” of value-added information services such as LexisNexis, Dialog and Factiva scare you away — all three offer reasonable pay-as-you-go options appealing even to searchers on a limited budget.

Librarianship after Google
American Libraries, Oct. 2002

The question librarians should be asking isn’t “Is Google going to put us out of business” but instead are search engines going to do so. And since we’ve had libraries survive the roughly eight years that we’ve had functional search engines, I think they’ll make it a bit longer. Yes, librarians need to understand how search engines will fit in with their patrons’ needs and habits. However, the world’s knowledge is not entirely on the web and thus not all in Google. Librarians still have an important role to play.

Super Searcher Guides to the Best of the Web
SearchDay, September 25, 2002

The Super Searchers web page is a gateway to thousands of exceptional web sites in ten subject areas, featuring hand selected links from some of the savviest web users on the planet.

New Search Engine Resource Center
SearchDay, Aug. 28, 2002

The Law Library Resource Xchange (LLRX) offers an excellent collection of articles, links and news that should be on every serious searcher’s short list of must-read resources.

Find It Online: A Searcher’s Baedeker
SearchDay, Aug. 27, 2002

The third edition of Alan Schlein’s ‘Find It Online’ is both a guided tour of the web’s most interesting and exotic information resources, and a hands-on tutorial for becoming a searching expert.

Battling Information Overload
SearchDay, August 21, 2002

Deluged with data? Coping with copiousness? Try these techniques for conquering info glut from internationally renowned super searcher Mary Ellen Bates.

Stumped? Ask the Library of Congress
SearchDay, Aug. 15, 2002

Some of the world’s best ‘search engines’ work at the U.S. Library of Congress, and they’re available online to answer your questions by chat or email.

The Seven Deadly Nyms
SearchDay, Aug. 7, 2002

Virtuous searching takes more than hard work and clean thinking — you must keep constant vigilance against the seven deadly nyms that can play the devil with your search results.

An Egyptian Stumper for Google — Or Is It?
SearchDay, May 28, 2002

A “simple” query that seems like a no-brainer for Google turns out to be an excellent illustration of why you can’t find “everything” on the Internet and even when you can, the “answer” may not necessarily be correct.

Seven Stupid Searching Mistakes, Concluded
SearchDay, Mar. 28, 2002

It’s easy to make mistakes using search engines. Continuing with yesterday’s four common blunders, this rounds out the seven stupid searching mistakes made by even the most experienced searchers.

To Or is Human
SearchDay, Apr. 9, 2002

Perhaps no other “advanced” search technique causes more trouble than the incorrect use of the Boolean OR operator. Here’s why this simple little world can wreak havoc on your search results.

The Ten Commandments of Internet Searching
SearchDay, Feb. 27, 2002

Find the path to searching enlightenment and avoid the temptations that can lure you to commune with false ideas with these ten commandments of internet searching.

Speed Searching with Lycos Fast Forward
SearchDay, Feb. 14, 2002

Lycos’ new Side Search feature adds a new link to search results that lets you easily preview pages without having to click back and forth to the result page.

Biography! or, Searching for Famous People
SearchDay, Feb. 13, 2002

When you’re searching for dirt on famous people, skip the major search engines and use these targeted, highly specialized biographical databases instead.

Searching the Web World Wide
SearchDay, Jan. 22, 2002

Finding global information often means going beyond your favorite search engine. These strategies and tactics from 20 expert researchers from around the world can help.

Searching to a Different Beat
SearchDay, Jan. 14, 2002

All good journalists are adept at discovering information, and some of the best Internet discovery tools are maintained by reporters who’ve published their list of sources on the web.

Articles From 2001 & Earlier

Super Searchers Cover the World
SearchDay, Dec. 6, 2001

In Super Searchers Cover the World, some of the world’s best international business researchers share tips, techniques and secrets that help you avoid being a stranger in a strange land.

Web Search Engines FAQS: Questions, Answers, and Issues
Information Today, Oct. 2001

In-depth information, resources, tips and advice on web searching from search expert Gary Price.

The Extreme Searcher’s Guide to Web Search Engines
SearchDay, July 19, 2001

The Extreme Searcher’s Guide to Web Search Engines is one of the most comprehensive, authoritative and just downright useful guides to what goes on under the hood of the major search services.

Mining the ‘Deep Web’ With Specialized Drills
New York Times, Jan. 25, 2001

Long article examining why you might turn to a specialized search tool to find information that ordinary search engines might miss, be it “Invisible Web” content, news information or on other topics. By the way, the search I did here was actually for “linda chavez” rather than “chavez,” but the results reported were as dismal.

Customization Options for Web Searching
Online, Jan. 2001

Guide to customizing how you search, for several major search engines.

Searching: Internet Scouring Techniques That Go Beyond The Basics
Smart Computer, Sept. 2000

This article is loaded with lots of good tips and examples on searching better, including a summary of tips at the end from many major search engines themselves.

Search Engine Inconsistencies
Online, March 2000

Looks at problems with page counts and processing search commands at some search engines.

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