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Search tactics & strategies… a Teach-in. Daniel M. Russell, Ph.D. Google Search User Experience Research Nov 20, 2008. Topics. How to use internet search and internet resources Develop effective search query formation Learn how to evaluate the trustworthiness of web sites

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search tactics strategies a teach in
Search tactics & strategies… a Teach-in

Daniel M. Russell, Ph.D.

Google Search User Experience Research

Nov 20, 2008

  • How to use internet search and internet resources
  • Develop effective search query formation
  • Learn how to evaluate the trustworthiness of web sites
  • Special advanced features and tricks-of-the-trade
search changes everything
Search changes everything
  • Your experience of this talk is radically changed from what it was just a few years ago.
  • Now if I say something like…

“…this topic is much so much more interesting if you first have a bumper of Nottingham ale…”

search literacy
► Search literacy

site: “double quotes” minus (as exclude) plus (include)filetype:pdfintitle:”cheat sheet”… etc …

knowing when to shiftknowing when to stopmove from wide to narrowpreserving state…

  • Six kinds of knowledge & skills needed to search:

pure engine technique



medical knowledgeplumbing knowledgeEnglish litworld languages …

reverse dictionarykeyword frequenciescontents of domainsWikipediaknowing what’s available… etc…

domain knowledge



Is this believable?

How does this link to other information I already know?

What is the relationship of this information to authoritative sources?

Knowing particular layout and features of a site (metadata sort/filter; variant query mechanisms; location of “print version” alternate view)



six components of expertise
Six components of expertise

pure engine technique

domain knowledge





hints to choose keywords
Hints to choose keywords…
  • Think about what you’re trying to find
  • Choose words that you think will appear on the page
  • Put yourself in the mindset of the author of those words
choosing the right keywords
 Choosing the right keywords

[ small note chant notation ]

ah ha
Ah ha!
  • From:
when you re choosing search keywords
 When you’re choosing search keywords…
  • When you eat pig, the meat is called “pork.” When you eat sheep, the meat is called “mutton.” When you eat deer, the meat is called “venison.”
  • Suppose you visit your cousin in Sydney, Australia and they serve grilled kangaroo. What’s another word for “kangaroo meat”?
  • Search for [ kangaroo meat name ]
  • Scan through the results looking for a page with a plausible answer
    • There are a number of ways to do this… the variations all have different amounts of scanning
    • Wikipedia (as it turns out) has a very nice article on this… with discussion of the controversy
think about synonyms
 Think about synonyms
  • When an artist is making a sculpture for a client, they often make a small version of the sculpture in wax or clay. They’re usual a preliminary sketch, presented to the client for approval
  • Question: What is this thing called?
  • The easiest solution I found was [ small artist model in wax ] – then read through the snippets to find a definition.
  • To double check, you can use Google as a dictionary:

[ define:maquette ]

  • An important skill… reading through the snippets
asking about the un namable
 Asking about the un-namable

I noticed the other day that everyone has a little indentation on their upper lip.

Question: What’s that thing called?

  • Start with the simplest search you can think of: [ upper lip indentation ] If it’s not right, you can always modify it.
  • When I did this, I clicked on the first result, which took me to Yahoo Answers. There’s a nice article there about something called the philtrum.
  • Then I double checked on that by doing a [ define:philtrum ]
use context terms
 Use context terms
  • I was hiking in the woods nearby in March when I saw a pretty blue flower. It was about 3 feet high, and grew along the pathway in the middle of the woods in Henry Coe State Park.
  • Question: Here’s the picture… can you tell me what the common and Latin name is of this flower?
answer wildflower image
Answer: Wildflower image
  • Search: web for [ wildflowers henry coe park ]
    • Look for collections of pictures. Look for a matching / similar picture.
  • Answer: Hound's tongue (Cynoglossum grande)
  • Path: I started with [ blue wildflowers california], but that didn’t work. Added [ blue wildflowers album california], as a context term… but still too many bad hits.

Then shifted to using location name as my context term (and removing all the other words), giving me: [ wildflowers henry coe park ] I noticed the exact hit at position #1.

going deeper on a topic
 Going deeper on a topic
  • I kind of like that wildflower! What else can I find out about it?
  • Where does it grow near me?
  • Does it like to live in the sun or the shade?
  • Question: How can you find out more gardening information about this particular wildflower?
answer going deeper
Answer: Going deeper
  • I started with the Latin name because it’s the MOST specific term you can use. So I did a copy & paste from the previous search: [ Cynoglossum grande ]and then started looking around. I quickly found that I could see it in Coe Park, near Morgan Hill.
  • When I looked up the Wikipedia entry, I found that it likes shady conditions. I then checked my work by doing a search for [ Cynoglossum grande shady ]Sure enough, other places say the same thing. It checks out!
keep looking think of synonyms
 Keep looking! Think of synonyms!
  • Sometimes you need to keep trying, thinking your problem through in different ways. Usually, if you think about how someone else would describe the thing you’re looking for, that will suggest search terms for you.
  • Question: A friend told me that there is an abandoned city in the waters of San Francisco Bay. Is that true? If it IS true, what was the name of the supposed city?
answer synonyms
Answer: Synonyms
  • Yes, it’s true… there IS an abandoned city near what is now Fremont. It was called Drawbridge.
  • The trick here is to think about other ways of describing an “abandoned city”—don’t just assume that’s the best way to describe it. Try this search:

[ ghost town san francisco bay ]

The former town of Drawbridge

specifiers term to get a certain kind of result
Specifiers: term to get a certain kind of result
  • Some search terms suggest results that are of a specific type.
    • Wikipedia – will usually bring wikipedia articles to the front
    • Image
    • Video – when looking for videos
    • Review – to find reviews of products, books, movies, etc.
    • Forum – a forum is an online discussion between people on a given topic
      • Example: [ Chinese wedding forum ]
    • Overview – for an on-topic overview
    • Tutorial – when looking for a tutorial on topic
    • Workbook
    • Help
    • Documentation – to look for documentation on a topic
    • FAQ – frequently asked questions list (often useful for topic summaries)
    • DIY – “do it yourself” useful when looking for instructions
art of keyword summary
Art of Keyword Summary
  • Choose words that will be on the page(s) you seek
  • Start as simply as possible (don’t start with 5 words in your query)
  • If you know a very specific term, use it (but be sure it’s right!)
  • Learn from what you see on the pages you visit
  • Don’t get stuck on a particular term or phrase. If you’re not making progress, re-think the terms you’re using
consider using other content types
► Consider using other content types
  • Video: Youtube –be sure to look for [ TED talks ] – great speakers e.g., Ola Rosling or Jane Goodall
for example when are images a good resource
For example.. when are images a good resource?
  • “What’s a fore topmast studding sail?”
ship diagram use image search
Ship diagram: Use image search

[ ship sail diagram ]

using maps
Using Maps
  • Using Google Maps is a great way to find where something is. But suppose you want to find out how far APART two things are.


(a) Can you figure out how far the De Young museum is from the San Francisco train station?

(b) Suppose you want to hike from the Yosemite Visitor’s Center up to Glacier Point. How would you figure out how far a hike that is?

  • Use maps with driving directions to get the rough distance from point to point.
  • For Yosemite, you have to look for a map at the Yosemite Park website.
  • Then… use the maps “Distance measurement tool” (under My Maps)
using other resources
Using other resources

Someone told me that in the mid-1500’s, people often would carry around a special kind of notebook. They would use the notebook to write down quotations that they heard, or copy passages from books they’d read. The notebook was an important part of their education, and it had a particular name.

Question: What was this kind of notebook called?

  • This is a really hard question. The best way to answer it is to first look for a reverse dictionary. [ reverse dictionary ]
  • Then, go to the reverse dictionary (such as ) … and type in the words [ notebook quotations ] – then look thru the list of words it shows you.
  • Answer: “commonplace book”
how to remove bogus results from your searches
How to remove bogus results from your searches
  • Sometimes you want to look up something that’s pretty common, so there are LOTS of web pages out there. It’s even worse when the word is really common. So how do you eliminate things you don’t want?
  • Question: Can you find a great recipe for salsa to make for dinner tonight? IN PARTICULAR… your nephew is allergic to tomatoes. Can you find a salsa recipe without tomatoes in it?
salsa answer
Salsa - answer
  • The trick here is to remove all those “salsa as dancing” meanings. The quick way to do that in a web search is with the MINUS sign.

[ salsa –dancing ] -- this will remove all the dancing references

[ salsa –dancing -tomatoes ]

you found a site you like and want to search just it
You found a site you like and want to search JUST it…
  • I really liked the recipes on – use SITE: to restrict search to just the site(s) you like

[ salsa ]

  • Also use site: to limit searches to just universities (in the US):

[ history american romanticsm literature ]

always check your work get multiple answers
Always check your work… Get multiple answers
  • Can you figure out the diameter of the earth?
checking your work
Checking your work…
  • Just do the obvious: [ diameter of the earth ]But CHECK YOUR ANSWER by looking at different sites. Depending on which one you choose, you’ll get somewhat different answers!

Site #1: 7,926.41 miles

Site #2: 12,756 km

Site #3: 12,756.3 km

Site #4: 7,900 miles

Why the differences?

- different measuring techniques

- different circles around (polar vs. equatorial)

- different resolutions of measurement (cm vs. mile scales)

  • Can you figure out how to use the calculator on Google?
    • Just type the expression into the search box
    • 4 + 5 + 19
    • 45023 / 34 + 5 / 29
    • Sin(0.5) ^ 2
  • General pattern: numberunits1inunits2
problem how fast does the world s fastest man run in mph
Problem: How fast does the World’s Fastest Man run in MPH?
  • Steps:
    • What’s the current world record?
    • Make the conversions
    • Do the calculations

1. Use web search (news) to find out world record

2. Note that the record is in meters (100 meters)

3. Convert distance from meters to miles

4. Convert time from seconds to hours

finding tools on the web
Finding tools on the web
  • General point:When you want to do something complex, LOOK for a tool to do it before building your own.
  • Find a way to graph the equations: y = x2 + sin(x) y = x2 * sin(x)
answer look for a tool
Answer: Look for a tool
  • Answer: use [ graphing calculator ] – then choose one


► Credibility
  • We all want to teach it… but how?
  • Credibility = trustworthiness + expertise
    • Oh yeah… it’s also socially contextualized: What’s credible to you might not be credible to another social group.
  • A large part of learning how to judge as credible is…
    • What does your social group recognize as credible?A large part of this is name recognition.
      • (NYTimes v. Fox v. CNN…)
      • (Folger Shakespeare Library v. Renaissance Pleasure Faire v. …)
credibility assessment
Credibility / Assessment
  • How can you tell if something is credible?

1. Check links pointing TO the page:

use: [ link:<URL> ] e.g., [ ]

2. Check the page and site on

use: – look on the “Site overview” and “Traffic”

3. Check links pointing OUT from the page:


example did nasa fake the moon landing
Example: Did NASA fake the moon landing?
  • [ lunar landing hoax ]
  • Click on first
heuristics to check credibility
Heuristics to check credibility
  • Look at the contact info for website
    • usually on the home page, not a deep linked page
  • Look at ads that run on the site
    • what do they tell you about the content / operator?
  • Use the link operator:

[ ]

      • to see what other web pages link to this page

[ link:/ ]

      • to see what other web sites link to this page
use other tools
Use other tools

- see: outbound links

- see: keywords

find out who owns the site
Find out who owns the site…
  • -- look under “Whois Search Results”


advanced search techniques
► Advanced search techniques
  • All search engines have advanced search capabilities. Here are some of the advanced things I use often… -- “site restrict” limits results to JUST that site

(Try:[ winograd ] vs. [ winograd ] or [ moon image ] vs. [ moon image ] )

filetype:pdf – “filetype restrict” limits hits to just files of that type (can be pdf, doc, ppt, jpg, gif, xls, etc.

(Try: [ sensemaking filetype:PDF ] )

intitle:”American Heritage” – requires that this string be in the TITLE of of the page that’s found

(Try: [ museum ] vs. [ museum intitle:”American Heritage” ]

or [ museum American technology ] vs. [ museum intitle:”American Technology” ] )

advanced search page
Advanced search page
  • Access to allof the advancedfeatures w/o having to remember them all!
  • The link to advanced searchis on every search page
► Summary
  • Choose keywords carefully
    • Think of the target you seek / how would it be written there?
    • Start broad, scan quickly, focus in
    • Use precise terms when you know them
    • Use type specifier terms

e.g., wikipedia, image, video, review, forum, overview, tutorial, help, documentation…

  • Consider other content types (images, videos, maps)
  • Remember other information resources exist
    • e.g., reverse dictionaries, synonym finder, forums, domain-specific sites
  • Techniques:
    • Minus to remove terms from searches
    • Check your result by looking for same answer elsewhere
    • Calculator
    • Conversions
    • Site:

5. Credibility

have a research stance
Have a research stance…
  • Key takeaways:
    • Make research be a part of everything you do
    • Teach this attitude to your students
    • Plan on learning new skills
      • Nothing stays constant on the web
      • Search engines continually improving
      • New search tools / new
custom search engines http www google com cse
Custom Search Engines
  • A CSE provides a tailored (usually more selective and focused) search experience for the topic of your choice
  • Sample uses:
    • Custom search for your web site
    • Group together multiple web sites on a common theme
finding a custom search engine cse
Finding a custom search engine (CSE)
    • Note that the searches can sometimes be a little funky…
alerts http www google com alerts
  • Scan news, groups, web, videos, comprehensive… and generate emails automatically
    • Use in conjunction with advanced search techniques

  • Combines data from multiple sources into single view
  • To find mashups: [ mashup search ]
  • …you can find lots more
  • Notes:
    • Lots of junk on the public video sites… be careful of what you see
    • Low quality
    • Also lots of faked video. You can’t believe everything you see either.
  • But remember than manysites have their OWN image collections. Especiallytrue of newspapers, .gov, NASA, universities, libraries, etc.
  • Example:
    • – in image search
    • scanned page images [ scuba ]
  • – “search inside this book” feature
    • Look for Backyard Ballistics

then [ potato gun ]

  • Usually want to use advanced search here
  • For scholarly searches…
searching libraries
Searching libraries
  • Very useful to do online searches of libraries…
    • Especially when you’re looking on obscure topics
    • Looking for an out-of-print author (not in Amazon)
    • When you need to find a hardcopy to read
    • Need access to local resources (e.g., Palo Alto Historical Association)

Palo Alto, 1960

palo alto
Palo Alto
    • Search the catalog (another “deep web”area!
    • (Click on the “search” icon, right hand side. Red and blue. Looks a little like a train…)
advanced search tips tricks
Advanced Search Tips & Tricks
  • When to do an image search?
    • When looking for a picture… obviously
    • But consider it when you’re stuck
    • Try: [ resume ] -- but try doing an IMAGE search for resume!
  • Oneboxes:
    • [ define:moa ] – note: contrast this with [ define moa ]
    • [ movies palo alto ]
    • [ pizza near mountain view ]
    • [ weather mountain view ]
    • phone number and map: [ kepler’s menlo park ]
    • <ups tracking number>
    • Flight numbers (to track a flight): [ AA102 ]