You know something’s mainstream when it becomes a verb - “I’ll just google it” meaning I’ll search the web for something using Google. And using Google, you’ll quickly find information with it, but is it the information you’re looking for? With a few simple techniques you can improve the relevance of the information it returns to you.

In this short screencast I’ll show you how to search for phrases, documents like microsoft powerpoint and word and finally how to restrict the domains you search - useful for narrowing down your search to academic communities.

In summary

Click on the “advanced search” link on the main google page. This takes you to this page.

Step 1. Put what you are looking for into the field labelled this exact wording or phrase. In this example I was looking for QR codes. This forces google to return this exact phrase. In a normal search google would return the terms QR and codes but not necessarily together on the same page so possibly not relevant. This narrows the returned results down from about 8 Million to 200k. A big difference.

Step 2. You can search for different filetypes in google, ranging from pdfs, word docs and powerpoint. You can see a full list from the dropdown box. In this example I’m looking for powerpoint files.

Step 3. And probably one of the most useful techniques to bring back the most relevant information is to restrict your searching by domain name. If I was only interested in finding out about QR codes in the uk academic community I could restrict the domain search to ac.uk. Every tertiary education institution in the UK has a .ac.uk domain and if I wanted to do a similar search for sites in the States, I’d replace ac.uk with edu. I can further restrict the domain search by going up another level. I know the University of Bath are doing a lot of work with QR codes at the moment so I could restrict my search by typing in bath.ac.uk. This would only return results for the QR codes at the University of Bath.

Step 4. When you’ve got your search set up hit the Advanced Search button to retrieve your results.

Step 5. Not really a step more of an observation. The code here is the syntax for your search query. If you remember this you don’t actually have to go into the advanced search page at all. You can do it directly from google’s main page or the google toolbar if you’ve got that installed on your browser. It’s not as scary as it looks and it pretty easy to remember once you get used to it.

In the main google page I’ve typed this query into the search box.

I’m telling google to search for the exact phrase “qr codes”. I’ve done this by enclosing it in quotation marks. I then restrict the domain search to the academic community in the UK by typing the the term site:ac.uk and finally I’m only looking for powerpoint files. I do this by typing filetype:ppt.

Three simple techniques in a nutshell to improve the (potential) relevancy of your searches: phrases, domain restriction and filetype.

We’ll be looking at Google Alerts in Part 2 of Finding Information on the Web