Know your search engine

Getting acquainted with a few simple tricks you can use on your search engine is something you want to look for, because the quality increase is very noticeable in a variety of cases. Here is a few tricks you can use with Google:

  • site: [domain] [query] searches exclusively in the specified domain.
  • link: [domain] returns pages linking to a specified domain (useful for pagerank calculations)
  • define [query] defines a term using online dictionaries. Very fast and useful.
  • what time is it in [city] returns the local timezone
  • [value] [source_currency] in [destination_currency] performs currency conversions
  • [term1] – [term2] returns all results containing [term1] but not [term2]
  • “[query]” searches for exact string matching (use just with quotes)

Of course these are just the most common — Google also acts as a calculator, flight tracker, and countless other things — you can find much more by searching for “google tricks”.

Don’t always rely on the first result

If you’re using Google, it’s good advice in the vast majority of the cases not to use the “I’m feeling lucky” button, which will take you to the first search term. Unless you’re sure of what you’re doing, e.g. because you are confident that your query will yield the desired results, it’s always better to perform a standard search and very quickly skim through the results and descriptions: these contain extremely useful information from which you can often already tell whether a page contains the results you are looking for. Just look at the context from which the search terms have been extrapolated — for instance, how close together are the words: if you see too many of these “…”, that means the different words are far one from another and therefore probably unrelated.

Why are all of these engines so stupid?

Implementing an algorithm that figures out what the page content is about is not a trivial task — understanding of natural language is one of the greatest challenges in the field of AI, therefore sometimes you may find that just adding or removing words to the query won’t help much and feel like you’re far from getting the desired results. In that case, just try to reword what you’re trying to say — try to start from the broadest topic and gradually refine, sometimes looking on a Wikipedia article (or just any other article) related to the topic helps finding different words to express the same topic.