Warning: Before You Do Anything Else, Search!

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, because the topic is so important. Search, in any of its forms, is fast becoming one of THE skills to master for the 21st Century. I first heard Rich Schefren a few years ago at a private conference refer to it as “search literacy”, and the idea has stuck with me ever since:

Given the overwhelming, ever-exponentially-growing flood of information in the age of the Internet, being able to perform sophisticated searches is becoming so important that it isn’t too far-fetched to call it a literacy issue. Without these skills, you are in a sense in danger of becoming functionally illiterate in this brave new world.

Those individuals (and by extension businesses) with advanced search skills will be running circles around those without, because it saves so much time to search intelligently, and because a lot of answers can be found that are simply impossible to find otherwise. In a way, this separation into the search haves and have-nots has already been occurring over the last 5+ years.

And by the way, all of this isn’t simply about Google. Not at all. In a moment, I am going to walk you through a number of examples of advanced searches, and some of the tricks and techniques underlying them. But before I do, let me stress one other thing:

Even if you do only the most simple of "everyday" keyword searches, you are already going in the right direction. In fact, if you aren’t doing it already, make it a point for the next two weeks to stop yourself at every turn and ask: "Could I be doing a search right now to speed this up?"

I think you’ll find that the answer is almost always YES, and that it will be well worth your while to develop this as a new habit (a habit takes about 30 days of repetition to form).

Simply search for everything, and avoid using "manual" searching, i.e. avoid scrolling through documents, web pages, and lists both with your mouse and visually, asf. to find passages/names/etc. you’re looking for. Search options exist in Word, in your browser, on blogs, on Twitter, on Facebook, everywhere. Yet often we don’t use them, and the authors of software/Web tools don’t put sufficient front-and-center emphasis on search capabilities/ease-of-use.

For example, in your browser, never again manually search through long Blog comment threads or other large pages/articles manually, use your browser’s "Find" function and type the first few letters of your name or keyword, etc.

Granted, Gen-Yers on average are likely far ahead of all older generations when it comes to matter-of-cause use of Google, etc., however I doubt that even they know in large numbers about the kind of in depth, advanced search I am about to show you.

General Search Operator Considerations

Let’s first consider the most important search techniques by way of the so-called search operators. These may sometimes be accessible indirectly through a Web form under the heading of "Advanced Search", but originally they represent a kind of mini-programming language for telling the Search Engines what you want them to bring back. (Search Engines from here on shall include the "Search Function" in Web services other than stand-alone search engines.)

These are the "logical"/Boolean operators you may remember from math class or Logic 101 (fun, I know, but you really want to know a leetle bit about this, at least in these practical applications). Why know about these when you could also get most of the same results from using the Advanced Search forms?

Remember, this is about LITERACY. You want to become fluent in a secret language of sorts, and true command and mastery only come from truly delving into the heart of the matter. Plus, you will find that it is almost always faster to type queries into one search box than typing bits and pieces into Advanced Search forms which tend to look a little different for each service.

So let’s get started. I have made all of the examples clickable links, so that you can study the results. All results should be very similar on Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft’s Bing (formerly Live):

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