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Vol. LXV, No. 8
April 12, 2013
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Become a ‘Power Searcher’
Google, Bing Experts Tell How to Optimize Web Searches

Duane Forrester of Bing

Duane Forrester of Bing

We search the web every day for everything from professional research to fun facts. But those searches often can be frustrating when seemingly thousands of search results pop up. How can we optimize our searches to find the specific information we seek?

Experts from two popular search engines, Google and Bing, offered their advice at a recent seminar, part of the NIH Library’s Training Program on new and existing research tools.

There are billions of web pages out there and fresh content gets added every day. Search engines can find information fast; they can search the full text of articles and they can refine larger searches. Duane Forrester, senior product manager at Bing, and Daniel Russell, a research scientist at Google, agreed it’s wise to broaden your search by looking across multiple web browsers and search engines.

Search results will vary on different search engines because they rank results differently, an important distinction since most people only view the top few results.

“It’s worth it to understand what you can do on one engine vs. the other, because using them together—using all of the resources available to you—is what makes you a power searcher,” said Russell.

In Bing and Google, most search criteria are interchangeable with slight variations in capabilities and search operators (see sidebar).

Changing search criteria can provide additional coverage, noted Josh Duberman, a research librarian at NIH, who introduced the panelists.

NIH staff have vast resources at their fingertips. On the NIH Library site, under Research Tools, the A-Z link offers a comprehensive list of databases. You can also check out the latest classes and training or sign up for news alerts.

Daniel Russell (l), a research scientist at Google, sparred in a friendly way with Forrester, his counterpart at Bing.

Daniel Russell (l), a research scientist at Google, sparred in a friendly way with Forrester, his counterpart at Bing.

Photos: Bill Branson

“People want to engage with fresh content, and fast,” said Bing’s Forrester. Search engines need to understand what users want to give the best possible results. When searching for “subway,” are you looking for a train or a sandwich? It’s also challenging to manage among different devices, platforms and services.

To build better results, Bing and other search engines use social media to gather personal data. If you don’t want your personal information influencing your search, Forrester advises logging out of social media networks first.

“The searches you do historically influence the searches that come back to you in the future,” he said. “In a research scenario, that may be detrimental to what you’re looking for because it may continue to bring up things you’ve already dealt with and don’t want to see anymore.”

In Bing and Google, clicking the wheel icon in the upper right lets you modify search preferences such as how many results appear per page.

Through a series of exercises, Google’s Russell demonstrated how to solve seemingly impossible problems with the right search combinations. Good researchers, he said, “chain together a set of resources. They do a set of operations on the data they have.”

Understand what’s out there to be found, advised Russell, then figure out where the content is located and how it’s organized. It’s important to know when to stop or switch approaches. When failing,try to think through the problem in different ways. Synonyms help. When choosing keywords, think about how somebody else might describe the term.

Search using simple, obvious language first. Also try “related searches” to view the results of others who searched for that information. Another time-saving tip is hitting Ctrl-F simultaneously (Command F on a Mac), which lets you search a word or term in the document, especially useful for finding something specific in long documents.

Expert searchers know what’s possible and use more than one resource, said Russell. For more deductive reasoning, he advised using a reverse dictionary, such as onelook.com, where you enter the definition and it provides the term. Drawing on multiple resources can help you link results and cross-reference data, as can chaining search operators together, such as site:nih.gov inurl:directorsblog intext:“vaccine patch.” Of course, if you’re looking for vaccine patch and you’re already on the Director’s Blog page, you can use Ctrl-F and type the term.

Russell and Forrester’s exchanges brought to mind the television ads where Mac and PC square off against one another.

Russell and Forrester’s exchanges brought to mind the television ads where Mac and PC square off against one another.

“Do not just read the snippet to find your answer,” advised Russell. Phrases there could be out of context. “Read the whole page or read 2 pages from different sources,” he said.

Russell showed a photo of a beach and asked where it was. The clue: a steatite statue’s right hand points to this beach. First, look up steatite, he said, which we learn is soapstone. Looking up statue and soapstone leads to Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro. Next, Google Earth shows us that the right hand points to two beaches; the street view in Google Earth or Google Maps clinches the query: Copacabana Beach.

More information and capabilities are continually added, said Russell. “It’s one of the greatest creative tensions between Bing and Google and it does nothing but make your life better.” Because search tools are updated frequently, consider professional development and training to stay on top of them.

Research Toolbox

NIH Library: http://nihlibrary.nih.gov

  • ABOUT US tab, under announcements:

    • Classes and training listed

    • Register for library email alerts

  • RESEARCH TOOLS tab: access databases

Take a free web search class at the NIH Library: LS100—Web Search: Thinking Beyond Google.

Check out targeted search engines such as:

Search Tips

  • Ctrl-F (Command F on a Mac) to search a word or term within a document

  • Examples of popular search operators (note: you can string them together for even more refined results):

    • AND (use in Bing; has no effect in Google)

    • OR (Google and Bing)

    • Define [term]

    • Filetype:[ext] such as pdf or ppt

    • Site:[domain]

    • Inurl:[text] example: inurl:brain site:nih.gov

    • intext:[term] (Google). In Bing, use inbody:

    • Double quotes [“ ”] to group words together

    • NOT (Bing), minus sign with no space after
      (Google) to remove extraneous words

    • Proximity search:

      • “term1” AROUND(n) “term2” where n is the maximum number of words that separate term1 from term2 (Google only);

      • “term1” NEAR: “term2” (Bing only)

    For more search operators

    Bing: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ff795620.aspx

    Google: https://sites.google.com/site/gwebsearcheducation/advanced-operators



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