Google Basic Searching

Google searching is a process, the goal of which is to find information about a topic.The process begins with a basic search, which is modified in a variety of ways until only the pages of relevant information are returned. Google’s ranking technology helps this process along by placing the highest-ranking pages on the first results page.The details of this ranking system are complex and somewhat speculative, but suffice it to say that for our purposes Google rarely gives us exactly what we need following a single search.

The simplest Google query consists of a single word or a combination of individual words typed into the search interface. Some basic word searches could include:

■ hacker
■ FBI hacker Mitnick
■ mad hacker dpak

Slightly more complex than a word search is a phrase search. A phrase is a group of words enclosed in double-quote marks. When Google encounters a phrase, it searches for all words in the phrase, in the exact order you provide them. Google does not exclude common words found in a phrase. Phrase searches can include:

■ “Google hacker”
■ “adult humor”
■ “Carolina gets pwnt”

Using Boolean Operators and Special Characters

More advanced than basic word searches, phrase searches are still a basic form of a Google query.To perform advanced queries, it is necessary to understand the Boolean operators AND, OR, and NOT.To properly segment the various parts of an advanced Google query, we must also explore visual grouping techniques that use the parenthesis characters. Finally, we will combine these techniques with certain special characters that may serve as shorthand for certain operators, wildcard characters, or placeholders.

If you have used any other Web search engines, you have probably been exposed to Boolean operators. Boolean operators help specify the results that are returned from a query. If you are already familiar with Boolean operators, take a moment to skim this section to help you understand Google’s particular implementation of these operators, since many search engines handle them in different ways. Improper use of these operators could drastically alter the results that are returned.

The most commonly used Boolean operator is AND.This operator is used to include multiple terms in a query. For example, a simple query like hacker could be expanded with a Boolean operator by querying for hacker AND cracker.The latter query would include not only pages that talk about hackers but also sites that talk about hackers and the snacks they might eat. Some search engines require the use of this operator, but Google does not. The term AND is redundant to Google. By default, Google automatically searches for all the terms you include in your query. In fact, Google will warn you when you have included terms that are obviously redundant, The plus symbol (+) forces the inclusion of the word that follows it.There should be no space following the plus symbol. For example, if you were to search for and, justice, for, and all as separate, distinct words, Google would warn that several of the words are too common and are excluded from the search.To force Google to search for those common words, preface them with the plus sign. It’s okay to go overboard with the plus sign. It has no ill effects if it is used excessively.To perform this search with the inclusion of all words, consider a query such as +and justice for +all. In addition, the words could be enclosed in double quotes.This generally will force Google to include all the common words in the phrase.This query presented as a phrase would be and justice for all.

Another common Boolean operator is NOT. Functionally the opposite of the AND operator, the NOT operator excludes a word from a search.The best way to use this operator is to preface a search word with the minus sign (–). Be sure to leave no space between the minus sign and the search term. Consider a simple query such as hacker.This query is very generic and will return hits for all sorts of occupations, like golfers, woodchoppers, serial killers, and those with chronic bronchitis. With this type of query, you are most likely not interested in each and every form of the word hacker but rather a more specific rendition of the term.To narrow the search, you could include more terms, which Google would automatically AND together, or you could start narrowing the search by using NOT to remove certain terms from your search.To remove some of the more unsavory characters from your search, consider using queries such as hacker –golf or hacker –phlegm. This would allow you to get closer to the dastardly wood choppers you’re looking for. Or just try a Google Video search for lumberjack song.Talk about twisted.

A less common and sometimes more confusing Boolean operator is OR.The OR operator, represented by the pipe symbol ( | )or simply the word OR in uppercase letters, instructs Google to locate either one term or another in a query. Although this seems fairly straightforward when considering a simple query such as hacker or “evil cybercriminal,” things can get terribly confusing when you string together a bunch of ANDs and ORs and NOTs.To help alleviate this confusion, don’t think of the query as anything more than a sentence read from left to right. Forget all that order of operations stuff you learned in high school algebra. For our purposes, an AND is weighed equally with an OR, which is weighed as equally as an advanced operator.These factors may affect the rank or order in which the search results appear on the page, but have no bearing on how Google handles the search query.