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How to Find What You're Looking For... Searching the Web

When you want to find a new place on the web, naturally, you do a search. The trick is knowing which search engine to use, and how to use it. There are, in essence, two types of search resources: web directories and web search engines.


Web Directories

Web directories are something akin to an index to the World Wide Web. Pages are broken down in to categories, and then more specific sub-categories. is an excellent example. You can still perform a search based on a web directory; however, directories are better used for general browsing.

Search Engines

In recent years, search engines have developed various features in an effort to improve their results for web users, thereby increasing their demand. Types of search engines beyond your basic search window (like include web portals, and metacrawlers.

Web portals give you a little bit of everything up front: news, shopping, stock quotes, whatever. An example would be, which happens to be the default home page for Internet Explorer ( Web portals are particularly good sites as home page for beginning computer users.

Metacrawlers are search engines that search several search engines at once, so you get a wider range of results. Examples are and ( or

In the end, really, they're all the same. The difference is how you use them.

Types of searches:

The most common type of search is a keyword search. When you do a search, it's the most natural method; just like looking up a word in the dictionary, or a subject in the index of a book. In most cases, when entering words for a search, more is better. The more specific you are when describing what you are searching for, the better results will be returned. It is even possible to perform a search based on a phrase, complete sentence, or question. Example: What is in a name?

When you do enter a phrase or sentence, some search engines may note that they have skipped certain words, called "stop words", which may be grammatically correct, but do not contribute to the success of the search (such as 'the', or 'my', etc).

However, if your search is for the phrase itself, enclosed in quotes (such as "What's in a name?"), the search engine will return results that only include the exact phrase as it is quoted.

Another way of manipulating search keywords that will allow you to better specify the results for your search is to use plus and minus signs.

boolean searches

Boolean commands use word commands to specify the search on your keywords. Some examples of Boolean search commands are "AND", "OR", "NEAR" (where the 2nd word may appear within 25 words of the 1st word), and "NOT". Boolean searches are based off of old searching methods used by professionals to search databases, and are generally ignored by search engines.

Field searches search specific parts of a web page's source code. While also not as common, it may help you to be more specific about what you are looking for or a keyword search may be able to accommodate. Some examples of field searches are as follows:

  • "title:" searches only the title line of web page
  • "domain:" searches the domain name for a specific extension. (Such as .com or .kids)
    A similar search can be made by "host:" and "url"
  • "link:" shows all the pages that link to a site
  • "image:" used to search for a specific image file name

Internet for Beginners > Surfing the World Wide Web:
What's in a Web Address? | Navigating the Web | Searching the Web | Digital Privacy


Material last updated March 2009

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