How to Effectively Search the Web

Written by Lisa

Internet search engines (Google, Yahoo!, Bing, About, etc.) search enormous databases of webpages using keywords. The potential of search engines can be maximized by learning how they work and how to find what you’re looking for quickly and effectively. It’s important to state an inquiry the right way so that you don’t end up overwhelmed with too many search results, underwhelmed with too few, or simply unable to locate the information that you need. As with most skills, practice is the key!

Typically, you will end up with many more results or “hits” than you need, so learning how to choose the helpful sites and weed out the others is also an important tool when searching the web.

Getting Started

Before doing a search, define your topic as completely and succinctly as possible. Think of—and maybe even write down—exactly what information you’re seeking, why you’re seeking it, and sometimes even what you’re not looking for. This will help you to discover the best keywords or keyword phrases for the search.


Most search engines work best if provided with several keywords. So how do you determine which keywords will work best?

The recommended maximum is 6 to 8 carefully chosen words, preferably nouns and objects. Search engines consider articles (a, an, the) and pronouns (I, you, we, etc.) clutter, so do not include them in a search. Use modifiers or adjectives only when they help to define the object more precisely—as in “Siamese cat” rather than just “cat.”

Use of Phrases

The most powerful search tool is the keyword phrase. Phrases are combinations of two or more words that search documents for the EXACT phrase that is entered. Search for an exact phrase by surrounding it with quotation marks (e.g. “Siamese cat”).



Punctuation and Capitalization

Search engines ignore case; queries can be typed in uppercase, lowercase, or a mix of cases. If using lowercase, most engines match on both upper and lower case—so for general searches, lowercase is the easiest form to use.

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