A Simple Search Engine Strategy

The Internet is a popular source of information. Educators can use it to find answers to all sorts of questions. Some are relatively simple like “What is the weather forecast for tomorrow?” Others are more complex such as “What are the effects of global warming on Saskatchewan farmers’ crops?” But how can educators find the information they want, without spending hours looking for it? The solution is developing a successful search engine strategy.

There are a few guidelines that will help you formulate virtually any search request, from the simple to the complex. This also forms the basis of a good search engine strategy. These guidelines are illustrated by using the question “What did the Roman Empire look like in the second century?”
1. Identify the important concepts of the search request. In the above question the key concepts are Roman Empire, map of the Roman Empire, geography of the Roman Empire, second century Europe, and Rome in 200 CE.
2. Try to think of keywords that uniquely identify the concept. The more distinctive a word, the more useful it will be for sharpening your search results. Examples of some keywords are Roman Empire, maps, geography, and second century.
3. Come up with synonyms and variations of the keywords, such as Rome, regions, maps, mapped, mapping for the example.
4. Check your spelling carefully.
5. Choose your favourite search engine.

Or try the big five: www.google.com www.excite.com www.lycos.com www.hotbot.comwww.altavista.com
6. Read the “Advanced Search Instructions”, “Help”, or “Search Tips” on the search engine’s homepage in order to find out what features may apply to that particular search engine.
Examples are double quotation marks, and logical operators like AND, OR, NOT, and NEAR, that help narrow your search results.
7. Formulate your search using the most important keywords first, and logical operators that are appropriate to the search engine.

The search expression may look like “Roman Empire” AND map (NEAR “second century”). Evaluate the results of the search and modify the search expression as needed by going back over each steps 2-7.

Remember, different search engines give you different results. Even the largest search engine has been estimated as having indexed only 34% of the entire web. So if you are still unhappy with the search results try another search engine.

Originally this article appeared in the June 2001 issue of Professionally Speaking/Pour Parler Profession, published by the Ontario College of Teachers.

The author, Quentin D’Souza is a Teacher and Editor of TheCanadianTeacher.com, a web site dedicated to connecting educators to resources on-line.