In many social circles, responding to a question with, “have you tried Googling it?” is tired and cliche. So much so, there’s even a web app that generates a snarky, let me google that for you, animation. Modern search engines are phenomenal tools. They can uncover anything from weather to sports scores to cat videos. By mastering the ability to search the web, one can learn just about anything.
While “Googling” something has become commonplace, in this post I want to discuss some advanced search and discovery techniques to help one search—and learn—more effectively.
Okay, let’s start from the beginning. If you go to www.google.com and enter something, it will return a list of websites on that subject. Taking that a step further, there are different types or categories of search like news, videos, or images.
Beyond these basics, one of the more common search techniques is search operators. For example, putting quotes around your search will return an exact result whereas a standard search only returns relevant results, that may display the search terms in different parts of the site. Putting a minus sign “-” in your search will exclude the next term from the list of results.
Strategic Site Search
Assuming most Torque readers know their way around the internet, this is probably old news. Let’s move on. Adding the term “site:” with a web URL will search only that site. For example, to search on just torque, you could use this query:
This gets really interesting when we strategically choose the sites we want to search on. For example, Hacker News is a link sharing site and community for entrepreneurs, and it tends to have high-level discussions on the topics of starting a business.
When my company was looking for someone to help create an “explainer video” for our product, I did a search on Google and found an overwhelming number of options. I narrowed the search down to just Hacker News and found a few glowing endorsements for a particular company that we ended up using with great results. Comments and links on Hacker News can all be voted up by other users, so the best and most accurate information tends to rise above the rest.
Similar to Hacker News’ focus on entrepreneurial subjects, Reddit follows the same format and there are “subreddits” dedicated to a huge range of topics like history, politics, video games, cooking, etc. You can tack a subreddit to the end of a google site search to delve into a particular topic
Niche discussion sites and forums are great places to find authentic information and reviews. Here are a few others that turn up great results when digging through their archive with a site search:
- Warrior Forum or Inbound.org for digital marketing
- CSS Tricks for frontend development.
- Quora for general question and answer or advice from specific people.
- Dribbble / Behance for design. Try searching for “dribbble freebies” to find awesome free design resources like stock graphics or UI kits.
- Deviant Art – Another excellent design and art site. Try searching for free fonts or Photoshop resources like patterns and brushes.
- City Data – This site has a wealth of information about city regulations and laws.
The key is to find sites with discussions about the subject you’re hoping to learn more about. If you have a favorite site, blog, or forum, please feel free to leave it in the comments.
Advanced Techniques / Tools
There are plenty more search operators one can use when Googling. I don’t want to delve too deeply into them as there are plenty of references out there like this article.
Search Time Ranges
One of my favorite search tricks comes from digging into the search Tools menu. There’s an option there to search for results in a given time period. There are all sorts of helpful uses for this technique:
Every week or so, I do a search for my company’s name and restrict it to sites from the last week. This way, if someone writes an article about my product or mentions us in a blog post, I can see it and jump in and write a comment.
Image Search Tools
Google’s image search also has a bunch of nifty features hidden away in the Tools menu. One can search for images that are a certain size, or have a particular dominant color. Also, it’s possible to search for images based on their usage rights. That is, you can search for images you’re legally allowed to use or modify for commercial purposes. Purple elephants, anyone?
Another nifty Google Image feature is the reverse image search. Have you ever found a great image somewhere, but maybe it had a watermark on it or it wasn’t the right size? You can drag that image into Google Image search and it will return other versions of that image or images of a similar nature!
Real-time search is useful for all sorts of purposes. Similar to my weekly search in Google, I have a column in Tweetdeck that returns any mention of my company’s name or keywords related to our product. This can be a great way to inject yourself into a conversation and tastefully share a link to your product or blog.
Real-time search doesn’t just need to be for business, I live on a mountain and I’ll keep an eye on Twitter during winter storms to see if there’s any snow on the summit. It’s also a blast to monitor live search results during events like conferences, sporting events, concerts, and even emergencies.
I’m sure there’s someone out there working on the ability to search in the future, sadly we’re not quite there. No winning lotto numbers here, folks. But, there are a few glimpses into what the future of search might look like.
AI Assisted Search
I’m fortunate to have a mother who’s a great cook. Every couple of weeks, she’d take all the leftovers from the fridge and miraculously whip up a tasty meal. Our family called this “Musgo” because everything in the fridge “must go.”
Now, thanks to the AI technology from IBM, you don’t need to be a master chef to do the same thing. Meet “Chef Watson.” Chef Watson is a web app where you can enter in a few random ingredients and the AI will spit out several recipes that you can whip up based on what you have lying around.
Along with AI, voice search is improving and becoming more and more prevalent. Most modern cell phones (Android or IOS) have a voice-activated assistant. Voice search is still in its infancy, but I think it’s going to quickly improve.
Imagine driving and being able to say, “Hey Siri, find directions to that restaurant we went last week for Bob’s birthday. The one with really good ribs.” As AI improves and, for better or worse, our connected devices track more and more data about our lives, this kind of search will surely be a reality. For now, though, voice activated search requires some finessing and isn’t much good for anything beyond simple questions.
With the amount of information and data available on the web growing exponentially, learning to creatively and efficiently search through it will almost certainly be a wise time investment. Do you have any favorite search or learning techniques? Please feel free to post about them in the comments.