Last month, I wrote about search engines and why they aren't always the best resource for industrial finishers. (You can find a copy of that article online) That column received lots of feedback from our readers. While many of you agreed with my analysis, some disagreed, noting that they found search engines to be a most useful tool.
The common bond between the letters that I received was that all of them asked if I would share some additional information about the "tactics" for yielding better search results that I referenced in my November column. While I had initially intended to devote this month's column to revealing the meaning of life, offering a definitive answer about the existence of the Loch Ness Monster and divulging the formula for time travel, I suppose I'll put those topics on the back burner and instead spend some time discussing the equally complex issue of online search strategies.
The "exact phrase" search—which is accomplished by putting your search phrase in between quotes—treats your search criteria as literal strings of characters as opposed to independent words. It's a great tool for searching for terms in a specific context. Using this search, you can look for specific phrases which can even include punctuation. For example, a search for curing ovens might be entered as:
One drawback of this search methodology is that it will not yield any phrases that are conceptually identical, or contain the same words in a different order, such as "ovens for curing."
When you want to get really specific with your search results, try using the "match all" convention. This is accomplished in most search engines by using the "+" symbol in front of your search terms. By using this symbol, you are telling the search engine that you only want to see web pages that include ALL of the terms in your search. For example, if you are looking for pages that address the issue of Faraday cage in powder coating, you might do a search for:
Notice how I combined the match all convention with the exact phrase method to refine the search results further.
Conversely, a minus (-) sign can be used to exclude certain words (which is helpful when you are searching for words which have multiple meanings or which can be used in various contexts), narrowing the search even further. The "match all" and "exclude" options are sometimes referred to as Implied Boolean, a variation of Boolean Logic (i.e. and/or/not), which many search engines employ via the use of Advanced Search forms.
Wildcards allow you to search for plurals or variations of words using a wildcard character (most search engines employ the asterisk (*) as the wildcard character) or by simply allowing you to enter a partial search term (which is called stemming). This methodology is particularly helpful when you don't know the precise spelling of a word. For example, in many search engines:
coat or coat* will return results for coats, coatings, coater, etc . . .
Before using wildcards, it's critical that you review your search engine's options page or help section to find out if and how it employs wildcard characters. Some sites —Google, for one—do not support the use of wildcards or stemming at all.
I've barely scratched the surface when it comes to searching strategies. Entire books have been devoted to search strategies, and these methodologies can vary from search engine to search engine (though, the underlying principles often remain the same among the major search engines). In the online version of this column, I will post some links to some additional resources which you may find helpful.