Conducting Efficient Internet Searches

Author(s):

Dr. M. Theodore Farris II, Ph.D.
Dr. M. Theodore Farris II, Ph.D., Professor, University of South Alabama, Mobile, AL 36688, (334) 460-7911.

82nd Annual International Conference Proceedings - 1997 

Learn how to make the most of your Internet search capability with multi-variable Boolean search commands. This article will help both the experienced and novice Internet user increase the effectiveness of their use of the Internet. The use of the Internet is rapidly evolving into a tool which can aid and enhance the effectiveness of the purchasing professional. Nielsen Media Research reports Internet users spend an average of five hours and 28 minutes on-line each week. In order for purchasing professionals to effectively use the Internet capabilities in a business setting, the use and understanding of effective search techniques is critical.

What Is A Search Engine? Inherent with each Internet connection is direct access to the use of one or more search engines. A search engine is a piece of software which allows the user to identify locations or home pages on the Internet which contain specified words. The user may designate one or more words and prompt the software to explore the Internet for these words. Each time the specified word is found, the Internet address is stored for display to the user.

There are a variety of search engines available and more continue to appear. Currently the most widely used search engines include LYCOS, Yahoo, Excite!, Magellan, and Infoseek(1). No doubt by the time these Proceedings are published another search engine will have been announced and in active use. When the initial abstract of this article was submitted five months ago, Infoseek was just under development. Where To Find Search Engines. Each search engine utilizes its own web address which may be entered just as you would a home page address. Most Internet entry screens offer a link into the more popular search engines. If these are not provided for you, consider looking at the following search engines by linking into their home page:

LYCOS: http://www.lycos.com
Yahoo: http://www.yahoo.com
Excite!: http://www.excite.com
Magellan: http://www.magellan.com
Infoseek: http://www.infoseek.com

Database Size Matters. The strength behind each search engine is the size of the database each search engine company utilizes to search. When a company creates a URL it must register the address of the location with the search engine company. The strength of your search is highly dependent on how many relevant companies are contained within the database. Most search engine companies prefer to over-register URLs to allow their database to be as extensive as possible. A word of caution. There are no standardized methods for counting and reporting the number of URLs in a database. As of the end of November 1996, there are over 80 million unique URLs. LYCOS claims to check 68,173,788 URLs. Infoseek has indexed over 50,000,000.

Speed Matters. Comparisons between search engines are currently inconclusive. Speed of the search engine will become a differentiating variable as the number of locations searched increases. Seek to find a search engine which combines and extensive database with a quick search capability. As additional search engines develop, speed will become a more commonly touted variable.

Relevancy/Confidence Factors. Most search engines attempt to help you identify the most likely candidates meeting your intended search by providing a relevancy or confidence factor. Each has a scoring methodology which may include the following criteria for determining the factor:

  1. Number of times the word of phrase appears on the page
  2. How unique the term is. Uncommon words generate higher scores.
  3. Exact phrase hits. Stringing words together lower the possibility the words will be found together.

The Boolean Search...Your Best Weapon. Speed and the extent of the search database are important but should not be limiting factors to an effective search. Your best weapon is the ability to utilize Boolean search techniques to precisely identify to the search engine what you are looking for.

Boolean searches (pronounced "Boo-lee-ann") sound much more impressive than they really are. They consist of key variables which string together (such as AND) or separate (such as NOT) search phrases. For example, someone purchasing fasteners may ask a search engine to identify all URLs containing for the term "nuts." Unfortunately this will yield many false hits for the searcher. Not only will you identify producers and merchandisers of almonds, pistachios, and walnuts but you will also identify anyone claiming to be a little bit "crazy." The Boolean searcher would ask for "nuts AND bolts" to restrict the number of pages which meet both criteria. Someone looking for information about python snakes may want to eliminate certain pages by asking for "python NOT Monty." Each of these provides an example of a Boolean search. In short, use simple commands to restrict your search to the areas intended.

Specific use of Boolean operators will vary from search engine to search engine and it is best to check the help screen of your favorite search engine. Some of the more common Boolean operators and common syntax are offered below:

  • Use NOT or a minus sign to eliminate words that should not appear in the search results (example: "Python NOT Monty" or "Python -Monty")
  • Use AND or a plus sign to ensure words do appear in the search results (example: "nuts AND bolts" or "nuts +bolts")
  • Use OR to expand your search to include one or the other words (example: nuts OR bolts)
  • Check your spelling
  • Use synonyms or variations of words
  • Capitalize names and titles (example: John Candy will find "John Candy" but not "candy" or "Candy")
  • Group words contained in a phrase with quotation marks (example: Tim Taylor, Jill will find "Tim Taylor" or "Jill" but not "Tim Taylor Jill")
  • Hyphenate words which should appear together
  • Bracket words that should appear within 100 words of each other.

Consider using the Internet to help identify additional sources. The Internet is growing in leaps and bounds and with it comes expanded business use of this tool. Fine-tuning your searching skills will help improve your efficiency.

(1) Each of these search engines are copyrighted. All future reference will preclude the copyright symbol.


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