Search engines are an online service for finding content on the
World Wide Web. Search engines crawl the World Wide Web for documents
(webpages) and store what they find in a database. The search engine
then provides an interface at a website - a search box and an search
button - to query their database of stored documents. At present,
2014, Google and Bing have the largest market share of daily search
To query a search engine is simple: all a user needs to do is visit
the search engine's website using a web browser, and then enter
a keyword or keywords into the search
box and click the search button. Once the user clicks the search
button, the search engine will use the keyword entered to query
their database for the most accurate result. Google and Bing are
popular search engines because they store billions of documents
in their databases and return accurate search results.
To successfully query a search engine,
a user needs to select an accurate keyword which corresponds to
the subject they want to find information about. For example, if
a user wants to find information about 'manchester united': an accurate
keyword would obviously be 'manchester united'; rather than 'football'
or 'soccer' or 'premiership football team'. However, if a search
engine does not have a webpage in it's database which corresponds
to the keyword used, then it does not matter how accurate the keyword
1. The first keyword in a search query is deemed the most
2. The more keywords used, the more accurate the search
results will be.
3. Virtually every keyword used in a search query (term)
is important, but, some may be ignored, such as: 'the' 'for' or
4. Some search engines are case
insensitive: so using capital letters maybe pointless.
5. Search engines may automatically filter
some offensive words.
6. Search engines use an IP address to regionalise a search
query. Users may wish to change their geographical location - within
a search engine's settings - to search for subjects for a specific
7. Search engines can create a search history related to
your computer or user account; so you may wish to delete your cookies
if you feel your search history is effecting the relevancy of your
8. Search engines have syntax
for creating advanced search queries. They are referred to as search
operators, and they will be highlighted below.
Search Operators and Punctuation
The following operators and punctuation can be used within Google,
Yahoo! and Bing (as of 2014). Search engines do differ in the operators
they provide for advanced search queries, but, the following operators
are widely available in most search engines.
1. - the dash symbol
is put infront of keywords which should be ignored.
comet asteroid -shop
- this will separate a search for 'comet asteroid' and 'comet shop',
and will ensure webpages for the 'comet shop' are excluded.
2. NOT this word (in
caps) is put infront of keywords which should be ignored.
comet asteroid NOT
shop - this will separate a search for 'comet asteroid'
and 'comet shop', and will ensure webpages for the 'comet shop'
" - use quotes to search for a specific phrase.
"all the world's a
stage" - the quotes
will ensure that the search engine searches for the line from a
4. + the plus symbol
indicates that the keyword is essential.
london +football +club
- the plus symbol tells the search engine not to ignore the
keyword it is put infront of. With popular keywords like 'london',
webpages unrelated to 'football' and ''club' may be returned without
a + symbol used.
5. OR will display results
for both keywords it is placed between.
blood type a OR o - will return
results for 'blood type a' and 'blood type o', and will ignore search
results for other blood types.
6. AND will find webpages
which contain all of the keywords.
olympics 2008 AND 2012 - will
find webpages which describe the link between two olympic games,
rather than just for a single year.
7. site: search a website
for a keyword.
email site:bbc.co.uk - this
query will search for 'email' webpages located at the domain name
(website) internet-guide.co.uk (the current website). If a user
simple enters the query 'site:bbc.co.uk' then the search engine
will simple list all the webpages that it has crawled and indexed
from that domain; this may include doorway
8. link: finds the websites
that link to a specific domain name.
link:bbc.co.uk - this query
will show all the websites that link to the bbc.co.uk websites;
although some search engines may omit a full list of backlinks
for a given domain. Links from an external website are referred
to as an inbound link (sometimes
as a deep link) and the amount of links a website has is termed:
link popularity. Some website
attempt to boost their link popularity by participating in cross
linking, web rings, link
farms, and creating doorway domains;
all of these practices can get a domain banned from a search engine.
9. related: finds websites
that are similar in subject and topic.
related:bbc.co.uk - this query
will find websites which are similar to the bbc.co.uk website; which
will be news websites in the United Kingdom.
10. cache: will display
a saved image of the webpage in question.
cache:bbc.co.uk - will display
a recent image of the bbc.co.uk homepage; usually the last time
the search engine crawled the webpage in question.
11. # when the hashtag
is put infront of keywords, it searches for trending topics.
#world cup - this search
query will search for the latest trending topics in social media
related to the world cup.
Anatomy of Search Results
Search engines display their search
results differently; however, it's fair to say that they generally
adhere to a similar structure. Below, we will examine how Google
displays it's results (Yahoo! and Bing follow a similar structure).
The search results generated by a search engine are referred to
as a: search engine results page (SERP).
1. Is the hyperlink to the document and the title of the
2. Is a description of the document, usually made up from
the meta tag description.
3. Is the URL (address) of the document.
4. Is a screenshot of the document, held by Google during
it's crawl of the document.
5. Provides a list of documents with a similar type of content.
6. The top result Google displays sometimes includes a list
of other popular documents at that domain.