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Internet Search Strategies

Sifting Tools

The Internet is without any doubt the largest source of information on just about any topic you can think of. The problem is that you can easily waste many hours sifting through irrelevant sites. This little tutorial is about cutting down your search time by searching smarter.

There are thousands of search engines and directories on the Net, so the first thing you have to do is decide which one to use… No, the answer is not always “Google”. You may end up using a directory instead – especially if you are researching a fairly broad topic.

When And How To Use A Directory

Directories like DMOZ ( are usually human-created indexes of web sites neatly organized into topical categories. Because they are created by hand, they are usually much smaller than search engines. You might be thinking that search engine are therefore far better at finding relevant info, but…

Small can be good.

Let’s say we’re looking for something very general – educational PC games.

There must be thousands of sites mentioning “educational PC games”. Sifting through all that will take hours.

But when you use a directory, someone else has already done the sifting. That’s what makes directories useful. There is almost always some kind of editorial selection process where sites are measured against a standard set by the directory. At one stage, the Yahoo editors where rumored to reject as many as 9 out of 10 site submissions.

Because of this, directories will have only a few sites per category, but they are very likely the best sites on the topic. Let’s see if we can find educational PC games.

I think I’ll head to Yahoo.

When you use the Yahoo search feature, the results you see are from Google.

That’s not what we want, so we instead go to their category listings looking for something like “Computers”, “Software” or maybe even “Shopping”.

Yes, there it is. “Software”…

Under the main category, “Computers & Internet”, there’s a sub-category called “Software”. Now it’s just a matter of drilling down. When you click “Software” it shows its sub-categories. Under “Software” there is “Education”, under that there’s “Teaching & Learning Aids” and under that there’s “Games”.

In this case the “Games” sub-directory is as far down as you can go. It shows only sites listed in that category – no further sub-categories.

Here are the two sites listed there:

LearningWare Inc. - Develops tools for teachers or trainers to create gameshows or quizzes for fun learning.
Solete Software - Free downloads of educational software and computer games.

About Using Search Engines

This is where it gets more complicated, but stay with me. I’ll make you a super searcher if you do… :-)

How much time do you spend searching during an average day? I probably use search engines a bit more than most people. I discovered that I spend about 2 hours a day finding information via search engines – correction… looking for information. Actually finding it is another thing altogether.

I decided to read up on search techniques and with some nifty new tricks chopped my search time (almost) in half. Unfortunately being good at searching costs me more time than it saves. Friends now phone me up – “André, hi! I need something on the diet of the Malaysian hunting spider for Billy’s science project. Any ideas?” Uh, yeah Bob, buy my book.

Seriously though, here’s what I learned about searching the web… The first and most important thing in web searching is to use the RIGHT search engine.

Contrary to popular belief, they don’t all index the entire web – even though they have billions of documents in their databases.

Ok, we know that when looking for something fairly broad, directories are great. Now, here’s…

When To Use Which Search Engine:

For broad, general searches, try or
For quality academic resources, try or
For shopping, try or
For natural language questions, try
For expert links, try or
For news, try
For government info (U.S.), try
For images, try or or
For multimedia, try
For kids’ sites, try
For queries containing stop words, e.g. “To be or not to be”, try

Search Engine Book: Search Engine Year BookThis page is based on information contained in the Search Engine Yearbook 2003. For more detailed search engine information & help, please refer to the current version of the book.

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