portal.htmbasic.htm → tips.htm
Updated April/2009

Introduction     ••     +Fravia's searching tips     ••     Other seekers' tips     ••     Seekers' proverbs


The following 'tips' are mostly targeted for SHORTTERM fast searching.
If you embark in a longterm searching project, be aware that some ad hoc searching techniques will be different.
Ditto for "deep web" searching purposes.
And do not forget the general golden rules for all kind of web-searching either.

"Ready or not, here I come!" 

On the ad hoc Quickforms page you'll find a useful mask listing the most important (in our biased opinion) among the (many) main search engines. Shortterm broad searches can be all usefully started from there.
This page is peppered with "seekers' proverbs" (gatered alltogether here), because deemed useful for meme-mnemonic purposes... and also because they are great fun :-)

Note that some of the examples given here can be used for any kind of search, and are not necessarily limited to short term searches.

Indeed for any search, shortterm or longterm, a very important thing, a priority, is its preparation: where are you going to search and what are you going to search. Both these aspects require some thoughts.
A simple short "auto-brainstorming" before beginning your search, writing down your scope and a preliminary list of keywords (and query terms) will pay jackpots whenever you risk to run amok and then get lost inside the dark web-woods: there's simply too much interesting stuff on the web, and without some self-discipline and a clear scope you'll waste a lot of time when searching. Remember that if a seeker hasn't found what he wanted in 15 minutes (on a short term search... for long term searches things are different) then his search strategy is wrong. If it happens, ditch it and start anew.
In this aspect, as you can see, a search is not all that different from that "hyde and seek" children's finding game, where a limited area of play should be chosen and the seeker must close his eyes and count to 40 before beginning to search.
So avoid running onto google shouting "Ready or not, here I come!" :-)

Quick searching tips  


    Seekers do not "plunge" into a search out of the blue. Like artists, they visualize the correct result before they begin. The 'perfect' answer is driving their queries. The perfect answer creates the correct question(s)
    What kind of results do you want? Books? Doctoral thesis? Images? News? Biographies? How many results do you want? Three hundred pages of material? One single authoritative book? A dozen pdf-articles? A short and concise essay?
    Obviously you cannot be an expert in all and every field of any and every query you will launch. But you must be an expert in the field of finding the right resources for each and every kind of query.
    Two skills a seeker needs: how to formulate a question correctly and knowing where to look. And this means knowing which resources you should use for your searches. And this means you must first of all know how to search those very resources you should use for your searches.
    In fact each 'part' of the web requires a different approach. For instance, searches on usenet, on blogs or on ftp servers are not ruled by the same lore. Also each kind of target, each quarry, requires a different approach: for instance when searching news, images or books.
    You must also decide if for a given query you will have to use combing techniques like stalking, luring or trolling.
    Before even beginning, think about your query: prepare your question(s) for the perfect result and decide which resources you will use.

    There is no shame in not knowing: the shame lies in not finding out

    Should I give only ONE advice, it would be this one. Even more important than "keeping on track" (see below). Never, never, never overestimate your search tool of choice. EACH search engine, main, regional or local has its own quirks and its own blindness patterns ("shadows").
    Everytime you 'restart' a given search on THE SAME SEARCH ENGINE with a slightly different synonimical query, or on ANOTHER SEARCH ENGINE (they don't overlap that much, after all) or on a more specific/local search engine you will get different results... Thus you shouldIn large rivers one finds big fish but one may also be drowned. NEVER 'stick' to a given search engine 'of choice'. Learn how much they differ and - even more important - understand how much their own results changes over time!
    The web is a quicksand, with tides, and search engines databases AND ALGORITHMS are continuously changing as well. Many among the main search engines are for instance now actively 'censoring' results, as you will quickly realize if you search for -say- MP3 or DVD reversing.

    Google alone & you'll never be done!

    Nothing easier than to loose your thread when you are searching the web.
    As an example you could actually take this site of mine. Many of the query-examples given here represent links to other interesting (I hope) searches / places / startpoints / querystrings.
    Thus the examples and links scattered around these pages should offer you continuous opportunities to leave this site in order to browse to other very promising ones.
    This is done on purpose and makes one of the differences between searchlores and most other sites: The "hyper-bastard" approach to web page building is to restrict click-away opportunities to a bare minimum. Even when a reference demands a link, many methods are used to hide (or at least reduce the visibility) of those links.
    Everything is made in order to keep a visitor 'caged' or 'trapped' inside a given site. Here you'll find the exact contrary, since you must learn some discipline if you'r going to be a good seeker: You leave my site for good while searching for a target? You'll never come back? Good riddance.
    That's the problem you'll encounter again and again on the web. You start with an aim, a scope, and you land inside an unknown forest of results you where actually not looking for. While this may be great fun if you take it as a "divertissement" once in a while, it is surely not in the interest of a seeker to walk astray. The web is a labyrinth with many exits and few entrances. Hence the fundamental importance of a clear scope and of an array of related terms when you search.

    You may find the worst enemy or best friend in yourself

    Always try to start a query with more than one term!. It is true that in some cases you will gather angles as you go, and that "peculiar" words (see point 9) will make all (or most of) the difference, still the web is so full of crap that one word searches deliver very rarely nowadays.
    This is (generally) so true that even zombies are slowly understanding it: two and three words queries amount now (2009) to more than one half of all queries, while "one word" searches are diminishing more and more.

    Terminologically, note that the beastly SEOs (may they all rot in hell: search engine spammers, the bunch of them, that dare call themselves "Search engines optimizers"), often speak of "general" queries (for one or two words queries and "long tail" queries (for all queries with three or more search terms).

    Finally note that in February 2009 google changed the SERPs introducing longer context snippets inside the results. Users however will see them only when searching withy multiwords, longer queries. These longer context snippets display more text (showing more of the keywords used in the query and on the resulting pages).
    Compare search strategies with search strategies tips hints techniques.

    One-two-three-four and if possible even mor'

    Three terms and it's clear: the signal will appear!

  5. EXACT SEQUENCE (and/or purposed misspelling)[""]
    Enclose terms in double quotation marks if you want to retrieve those exact terms in that exact sequence. This is one of the most useful ways to cut ballast out in order to find a specific target. Thus "searchengines" will give you pages with the two terms 'glued' together, "search engines" will give you results with the two terms separated (by a space OR by an interpunction) while "search engines results" OR "searchengines results" OR "s.e. results" will give you pages with ANY of these three occurrences.

    Note that some relevant pages may still remain outside your vision. At times misspelling can be used for better searching: "saerch engines" will retrieve pages WITH THIS SAME (and common) MISSPELLING ERROR. Try for instance serach strategies :-)

    A wise man getting few results at night
    tries new spelling, even if it's right

    Narrow your searches by linking your search terms with AND or &, or simply use the plus sign [+]. The search engine will find only those pages that contain all of your search terms. Similarly, exclude pages that are not relevant to your search by preceding the search term with AND NOT or | or simply use the minus sign [-]. +"search engines" +hints +tips +techniques -tits -sex -"make money" is better than the more simple +"search engines" +hints +tips +techniques

    Take heed you do not find what you do not seek

    With the + sign you may miss related documents that don't have the words you specify as required. For example, the search "searching tips" +searchlores would ONLY LIST results that have the words "searching tips", if they also have the term "searchlores".
    With the - sign it's, on the other hand, easy to exclude too much. For example, if you were looking for information on "bots script" but not in javascript, the search +"bots scripts" -javascript would exclude any document about bots scripts with a sentence like "this kind of bot would be impossible in javascript" (it's just an example: there's on the web no page -apart this one you are reading- with that specific sentence, which means you could also use such a link for perennial linking, coz it would work indipendently from wherever I could move this page)

    Some search engines, like Fast/Alltheweb have a special boolean box for a very limited boolean searching pleasure (AND, OR and NOT).
    It's often difficult to specify exactly what you want to include or exclude. You can also get unexpected results if you are not careful about your use of operators and parentheses.
    For example, the search seeking OR searching AND "finding good results" is the same as the search seeking OR (searching AND "finding good results").
    Both queries will find documents that contain both searching and "finding good results" (good results added in order to keep results down), together with documents that contain the word seeking. However, the query (seeking OR searching) AND "finding good results" is not the same. It will find documents containing the word "finding good results" and, in the same document, either seeking or searching. (Incidentally if you get a first result, as in this case, that BREAKS the OR operator, because it has both searching and seeking, you discover a paying-spam site that shouldn't be in the first position at all).
    Anyway the point is: be careful with the boolean operators!

    In large rivers one finds big fish, but one may also be drowned

    A most important tip! You should always strive to use differentiating keywords when searching the web. Words that are commonly used will not help you much. Besides, extremely common words, like articles and prepositions ("stopwords") are often completely ignored unless you force them with a + (of course each language has its own ad hoc set of stopwords, for english usually the following ones: the, and, a, to, of, in, i, is, that, it, on, you, this, for, but, with, are, have, be, at, or, as, was, so, if, out, not). Thus a search like but not me again with you is rather pointless, if you really need that, try at least to break it into chunks: "but not me again" "with you".
    Try to use words which underline the peculiarity of your target. Common words, when combined with boolean qualifiers, can be very effective. As usual when web-searching, gather words to build your ad hoc "core vocabulary": you must identify the main concepts in your topic and determine any synonyms, alternate spellings, or variant word forms for the concepts. Remember that the most "peculiar" a word, the more useful it will be in order to sharpen your search.
    + title:"search strategies" +hints +tips (and &nbq=50)
    in this case we did include the "search strateg*" string (which already has an elevate Peculiarity) in the title: special search term (parameter/operator).
    (Incidentally this kind of search is also useful to discover plagiarists and copycutter clowns :-)

    Experiment! Try for instance the broad (peculiar) opening queries:
    searching.knowledge OR searching.experience OR searching.intuition -site:com
    "perfect.searcher" OR "best.searcher" OR "accomplished.searcher" -site:com
    or the narrower (peculiar), closing ones:
    "web searching successes" -site:com
    "amazing search engine secrets" -site:com
    "educated.seeker" -site:com :-)

    To find your edge use words as wedge

    Note the use of advanced operators and special parameters in the previous example. Here a list of the "special search terms" for altavista:
    • domain:domainname      to avoid useless noise try excluding all commercial crapola with -"domain:com"
    • host:name
    • link:URLtext
    • inurl:text                       the "inurl:" operator is a godsend for any educated seeker
    • title:text                        the "title:" operator is always most useful for narrowing your queries
    • url:text

    Each search engine has its own advanced operators, and seekers are nowadays is pretty much compelled to study google's and yahoo's (and maybe MSN's) ones.

    1. ASTERISK[*]
      Note also the use of the asterisk [*] in the example "index+of/" "rain.wav******": usually on most search engines an asterisk must be used after at least 3 characters from the beginning of the term, and it is valid for up to 5 characters (or as an element of a phrase).
    2. Question Mark (?): After 3 specified characters will match exactly one more character.
    3. Double (or more) Asterisks (**) More flexible operator, as it will search for matches for an unlimited number of trailing characters.
    You also have the ability use the wildcards interchangeably and more than once in the same search string. Here a rather complex, but very interesting example for google, quite useful for some specific usenet searching circumstances: +("ftp://" OR "http://") +("*.zip" OR "*.exe" OR "*.rar") -link group:*crack* OR group:*fido7* OR group:*2600*

    You should archive your useful queries and repeat them over time. All search engines queries can be saved and used again later. Since the results of all queryes VARY WITH THE TIDE (when traffic is particolarly heavy the search engines "cut" the results) you would be well advised, for important queries, to repeat them again and again in other timeframes.
    Keep records of all your search activities! Systematic record keeping is OF PARAMOUNT IMPORTANCE when searching. The classical mistake of almost all newbie seekers is to 'forget' to keep records during their searches.
    For this purpose I suggest you simply use the NOTE function in Opera, just highlight the target text you are interested in, rightclick, and then chose copy to note (or use the keyboard shortcuts, either CTRL+SHIFT+C or CTRL+ALT+E depending from the version of Opera you are using): the URL of the page you'r viewing at that moment and the date will be automatically stored in your note together with the highlighted text.
    You should create ad hoc note folders (for instance "research_on_canaletto_29SEP2005") and, at the end of your search, before switching the box off and go to sleep, just move all your related notes inside the correct folders. Opera's Notes are just text format, very easy to edit, cat, search or prune.
    Alternatively use something else, even a pen and a sheet of paper will do. DO NOT rely on your memory alone (or on your extraordinary seeking capabilities to re-find at once what you may have lost :-)
    If you do, you will regret it. Sooner than you believe.

    As you'll learn elsewhere on this site, there are many methods to access some -ahem- 'non public' portions of the web.
    A quick, simple tip, is to always look for the presence of a file called ROBOTS.TXT in the main directory of your target site, entering per hand the URL; let's say:
    This file is used to tell search engines which directories and files they should not index on a specific site. Thus anything that has been put inside a 'robots.txt' file will not (well, "should not", in fact not all search engines 'behave') be found by your searchqueries. However, once you have seen the name of the forbidden subdirectories, you can still type them directly into your browser in order to access all their pages.

    The 'down yonder' problem is well known by searchers. Being easily spammed by the beastly SEOs, all main search engines -and especially google- suffer a terrible draw-back: indeed some interesting results may be listed somewhere, yet the spam-cram keeps popping up in the first positions while the juicy targets you are looking for lie buried somewhere inside those huge SERPs, 'down yonder'.
    There is an interesting approach called the Yo-yo approach, that can be used for most main search engines.

    A fantastic tip: go regional, both using regional search engines or using some linguistic tricks. This can work even for languages you do not know and/or using ad hoc dictionaries and translation free services.
    The depth you can reach on a specific search using a -say- korean search engine cannot be surpassed by any simple google search. Go regional everytime you're stuck. Go regional for the fun. Go regional for combing and stalking purposes. You wont regret it!

Others' tips 

Some notes: fast vs slow searching (by Mordred)

There is a side to searching which - while actually well covered in information - is not clearly stated - WHEN do you want your results. I think that there is an important border between finding fast (FF: that's when you need a quick answer) and finding slow (SF) (for example:

- things that are NOT YET answered,
- generic time consuming research,
- searching for "all of" (instead of "any of", which is more likely into the FF category)

Thus various search techniques can be applied to the two categories:
klebing, luring, ask-an-expert combing, password breaking are slow finding (SF) methods
- webbits, keyword shortcuts, and other similar tricks are fast finding (FF) methods
- some, like combing & yoyo, are useful in both cases

For example, searches of 'where is my car' type are obviously calls for quick answers, and if the info you need is short, you can even get it in the SERP summaries (the asterisk (*) trick is nice, and also 'asking the answer'). Yesterday I looked for some time the metaspy erom mentioned at the seeker's and saw with my very eyes the query [what is brittany speers shoe size], I swear! With a quick fix of the spelling and some quotes you can get ["britney spears" "shoe size *"] faster than the guy can figure out why google asks him for an alternative spelling, when his own is undoubtedly right.

Also, a useful thing to mention is what to do when you realize your search strategy is wrong - like:

If you get little or no results in a main SE, switch to metasearch.
If your keywords are too generic, try a SE that can cluster results (kartoo-like) until you learn enough specific keywords about your target.
If your target is very topic specific, find a topic-centric SE

(Slow/Fast: see also the distinction between these "short term" searching tips and the techniques proposed for long term searching ~ fravia+)

Seekers' proverbs 

Quaerite et invenietis
(Very ancient seekers' lore)
(Seek, and ye shall find: Matthew 7:7)

Google alone & you'll never be done!
(About the importance of using more than one search engine)

A wise man getting few results at night
tries new spelling, even if it's right


To find out about the web ahead, ask those coming back
(About the importance of combing the web)

just in case

(This was very important once upon a time... recently only altavista still cared, and now even altavista is dead, killed by yahoo)

Aut inveniam viam aut faciam!
(Proud motto of Olaus Hermelin's "Ur-seekers" @ the Academia gustaviana in Tartu)
(Indeed an inspirational searchers' war-cry)

and if possible even mor'!

(About the importance of using multi-terms queries)

There is no shame in not knowing: the shame lies in not finding out
(Ancient seekers' lore)

Take heed you do not find what you do not seek
(Ancient seekers' lore)
("Narrow down" your queries!

Hic alta, hic salta
(With spammed search engines like Altavista jump down to the lower results' pages to avoid the spam at the top, see also the "YO-YO Technique")

Refine, refine & then refine again
but cross your fingers meantime

(Seekers' lore)
(When the query is too broad)

To find your edge
use words as wedge

(See the peculiar words tip)

Few results on google too?
Don't waste time and use kartoo!


Three terms and it's clear:
the signal will appear

(About the importance of using multi-terms queries)

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