Google 101

Google is appealing because it’s so straightforward. But you can get a lot more out of the site by knowing your way around the subtle details and using the less prominent features. Authors Sarah Milstein and Rael Dornfest guide you through basic search techniques and help you analyze search results in ways that would surprise many power users. (Chapter 1 from the book Google: The Missing Manual, O’Reilly Media, 2004, ISBN: 0-596-00613-6.)

milsteinIf you’ve never used Google before, you’re in luck: it’s incredibly easy to run a simple search. But if you’ve been using Google since the day it debuted, and you’ve never tried an image search or clicked the “Similar pages” link, consider yourself part of the vast Underusers Club.

Google is appealing because it’s so straightforward. But you can get a lot more out of the site by knowing your way around the subtle details and using the less prominent features. This chapter guides you through basic search techniques and helps you analyze search results in ways that would surprise many power users.

The Heart of Google: Basic Text Searches

The Google home page (www.google.com) is as plain and friendly as Web pages get—loading quickly both for dial-uppers and broadband jockeys. As Figure 1-1 shows, it features tons of white space, a blank search box awaiting your command, two buttons, and a handful of links. What less could you want?

Google is about as hard to use as your refrigerator. To run a search, just follow this simple procedure:

1. Point your browser to www.google.com.

You can skip the“www”part and just type google.com in the address bar, then press Enter. (Google fills in the “www” for you.)

As shown in Figure 1-2, the address bar is the space at the top of the browser where you can type in a new URL. URL (pronounced “You Are El”), which stands for Uniform Resource Locator, is the unique electronic address assigned to every Web page, and it tells computers where to find that page on the Internet. A URL looks like this: http://www.missingmanuals.com, or sometimesjust www.missingmanauls. com, or even missingmanuals.com. Google’s URL is www.google.com. URLs are also known as Web addresses, and you’ll see a lot of them as you surf around.

To move to a new Web page, highlight the current address (in most browsers, clicking once in the address bar does the trick), type your new URL right over the old one, then press Enter.

Once you’ve entered Google’s address, its home page—shown in Figure 1-1—snaps to attention, with a blinking cursor in the blank search box, ready to receive your search words.

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2. Type in the word or words you want to search for (up to ten of them), and then press Enter or click Google Search.

Google looks for Web pages that contain the words you type (you may hear these words called keywords, search terms, and queries, but they all mean the same thing).

If you put in Britney Spears, you get not only Britney’s official Web site (www. britneyspears.com), but a couple million fan sites and media outlets that have mentioned her, too.

Common searches include proper nouns like celebrities’names, company names, places in the news, the name of your high school, and your own name. You can also look for things like New York subway map, or prostate cancer support group, or hemp wholesalers.

3. Scroll through your results, and click any link to jump to that page.

Links appear underlined, in blue, and when you mouse over them, the cursor turns into a hand. Figure 1-3 depicts a typical results page.

Tip: In most browsers, you can right-click or Shift+click (c-click) a link to open it in a new window, thereby preserving your list of results for further exploration.

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4. To return to your Google results, click the Back button on your browser (or, if you preserved your results window, simply switch to it).

If you don’t find what you want on one page, you don’t have to type Google’s URL again and retype your search, too. You can just click back to the original results.

Tip: A lot of browsers, including Internet Explorer, have a little down arrow beside the Back button. If you click it, it displays a list of the pages you’ve most recently visited. It’s super-handy when you’ve clicked your way down into a site and want to jump back to your Google results—or anywhere else you’ve been—without backing through every page you’ve hit.

Congratulations. You’ve just used one percent of Google’s power. And that’s as far as 99 percent of the population ever goes.

The rest of this chapter gives you tips on extracting more power from Google using less effort, including a tour of a typical results page highlighting the little-visited, but treasure-filled corners of Google (page 26). 

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What makes Google so amazing is that more often than not, you get what you’re looking for right away. Google figures out that the pages you’re mostly likely to want are the pages other people link to most often.

Tip: In fact, the system is so reliable that Google offers an “I’m Feeling Lucky” button, described below, that takes you directly to the page that would appear at the top of your results.

Still, depending on what you’re looking for, you may have a hard time finding what you want. And as the Web grows, you can easily get too many results. A search for dog biscuit recipes, for example, turns up more than 20,000 pages. How do you choose?

Filtering is the name of the game. To prevent an attack of Futile Search Frustration, a few simple techniques help ensure that no matter what you’re looking for you’ll get to the stuff you really want—not just somewhere near it. Here’s a handful of tricks to keep in mind.

Frequently Asked Question: Why is it Called Google?

“Google” is a cute name, but does it mean anything?
The thing that stands out most on the Google home page is the company’s colorful signature. Which raises the ques-tion: Why does this search service sound like it’s named after a Muppet?

In fact, “Google” is a misspelling of the word “googol,” which is the number 1 followed by one hundred zeroes, or 10100, and brings to mind the stupendously large number of Web pages that it searches. (Extra neat fact: a googolplex is the number 1 followed by a googol zeroes, or 1010^100. Not coincidentally, Googe’s office complex is called the Googleplex.

Incidentally, the word googol was coined around 1938 by the nine-year-old Milton Sirotta, the nephew of mathematician Edward Kasner.

Getting Specific

Google is a smart Web site, but it can’t read your mind. If you search for apple, Google doesn’t know whether you’re more interested in the fruit, the computer company, the Beatles label, New York City, the singer Fiona, or something else altogether. (In this case, Google guesses you want to find the computer company, because—thanks to the techie types who hang out online—many more sites link to Apple Computer than to other sites with the word “apple.” For more on how Google judges relevance, see page 3.)

Search engines live by the maxim “Garbage in, garbage out.”So be sure to give Google hints to locate what you want—the more specific, the better. Try apple nutrition, Apple software, Apple Records, the Big Apple, or Fiona Apple. You can take your query a step further and go for “how many calories does an apple have?” Or Fiona Apple lyrics.

Tip: Actually,instead of asking Google “how many calories does an apple have?put your search in theform of an answer: “an apple has * calories(the asterisk stands in for the word you don’t know, as explained on page 59). After all, you want Google to find answers, not questions, so you’re more likely to hit pay dirt if you search for answers. Here’s another example: Instead of the query “Where does Oscar the Grouch live?” try “Oscar the Grouch lives in.” Or, rather than “Why is Snuffleupagus invisible?try “Snuffleupagus is invisible because.” (When you’re searching for specific phrases, use quote marks, as explained on page 20.)

Keep in mind that Google cares about the details of your search terms. A few cases stand out:

  • Singular is different from plural. As Scrabble mavens know, the “s” is a key letter. Searches for apple and apples turn up different pages. Although Google often runs singular and plural searches automatically, try both forms of a word if you’re not sure which is more appropriate for your query.

  • The order of words matters. Google considers the first word most important, the second word next, and so on. Thus, brown logo brings up a lot of pages related to Brown University first, while logo brown starts off with logo designers and merchandise with logos.

  • Google ignores most little words. To stay speedy and focused on the most important terms in a search, Google ignores a bunch of common words, known to search aficionados as stop words. These include “I,”“where,” “how,”“the,” “of,” “an,” “for,” “from,”“how,”‘it,”“in,”and“is,”among others, and certain single digits and letters. Most of the time, this is a good thing. When it’s not (say you want The King, not just king), use quote marks, described on the next page.

Note: Google doesn’t give out its official list of stop words. But after you run a search, it tells you if it has excluded a common word by displaying a message on the results page (right below the search box), something like this: “‘the’ is a very common word and was not included in your search.”

Google ignores most punctuation except apostrophes, hyphens, and quote marks (discussed next). When you hyphenate a word, like bow-tie, Google also searches for bowtie and bow tie. It does the reverse, too: If you search for bowtie, Google also finds bow-tie and bow tie, but it shows you the results in a different order. Similarly, Google treats Paul’s, Paulsand Pauls as three related searches (though it acts as if Senator P. Simon and Senator P Simon are the same guy). So for commonly hyphenated or compound words, it’s sometimes worth running the search a few different ways to bring up a variety of results.

The other kind of punctuation that Google recognizes is two periods in a row, as explained in the box below.

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If you type in more than one keyword, Google automatically searches for all the words anywhere they appear on a Web page, whether they’re side-by-side or scattered throughout. For example, if you search for this—

to be or not to be

—then Google gives you results that contain those words anywhere on the page, including pages called Hot or Not? and the National Do Not Call Registry. Probably not what you had in mind.

If you want only Web pages that contain your words in order, as a complete phrase, let Google know by enclosing them in quotes. Google calls this a phrase search. But despite the fancy name, it’s really the most elemental search trick on the planet.

So if you search for “to be or not to be”, Google gives you matches only for pages that include that whole, exact phrase. You get links for lots of articles and movies with the famous phrase in their titles, and a bunch of Shakespeare-related sites, too.

Gem in the Rough: Home on the Number Range

Most people use Google to search for words. But it also lets you search for a host of identficaton numbers, like package tracking IDs, as described on page 42. Even more exciting, Google lets you search for a range of numbers or dates. Just type two periods between the numbers at either end of the range, and Googe shows you results that include those numbers and everything in between.

For example, if you want to find references to New York City in the first half of the 19th century, try 1800..1850 “New York City.” Google shows you results mentioning the Big Apple during that entire span of years. This trick is also good for prices $50..75 Tiffany) and for other types of numbers (45..55 MPG Honda, or 400..600 thread count cotton, or 200..300 watt bulbs).

Searching Within Your Results

You wanted to see if you could find the text of Hamlet online. So you searched for “to be or not to be,enclosing the phrase in quotes, and you got 173,000 results—most of which didn’t even mention Denmark.

Google has a great feature for helping you narrow your results to find the really relevant pages, although almost nobody uses it. Double your Google effectiveness simply by using the “Search within results” link at the bottom of any results page. Figure 1-4 shows you how.

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And vs. Or

When you run a search, Google assumes that you want to find all of the search words you type. For example, if you search for this—

chimps “Los Angeles” trainer

—then Google finds a list of Web pages containing the words chimps, and the phrase Los Angeles, and the word trainer. (Put another way, Google automatically inserts the word AND between each term.) It does not include Web pages that are just about Los Angeles, or even about Los Angeles chimps. A Web page must include all three phrases, or it doesn’t make the cut.

If, on the other hand, you want to find pages that have either one term or another, type OR between them, like this—

“Ben Affleck” OR “Matt Damon” OR chimps

In this case, Google gives you pages that include any one of the three terms.

Finally, if you want one term plus any of several other terms, group the options in parentheses, like this—

chimps (“Ben Affleck” OR “Mark Wahlberg”)

—then Google shows you pages that include the name “Ben Affleck”or “Mark Wahlberg” plus the word “chimps.” Handy when you can’t remember which actor was in the 2001 remake of Planet of the Apes.

Tip: You can use the | (pipe) character instead of OR, as in: chimps (“Ben Affleck” | “Mark Wahlberg”). The pipe is above the backslash on your keyboard; to get it, press Shift + . (This tip is brought to you by the National Society of Unix Gurus and Other Geeks Who Use the Pipe Symbol in Their Programming All the Time.)

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Just Say No

Google doesn’t understand the word NOT, a programming command familiar to techies and parents of two-year-olds. But it does let you use a minus sign (or dash) to indicate that you don’t want a certain term to appear in your results. For example, if you type—

“Ben Affleck” –”Jennifer Lopez”

—then Google gives you only pages that contain mentions of “Ben Affleck” without “Jennifer Lopez.”

Tip: The minus sign must appear directly before the word or phrase you want to exclude. If you put a space after the symbol, Google ignores it. Do, however, put a space before the minus sign.

Frequently Asked Question: Case Sensitivity

Does Google care if I capitalize my search words?

No. Some search engines, including those on many intranets (private Web sites), are case sensitive, meaning they search for your terms based on how you capitalize the words. In a case-sensitive word, the query “ALFRED HTCHCOCK” woud not find Web pages containg the term “Alfred Hitchcock”, “alfred hitchcock”, or “aLfREd hiTChCoCk”.

Googe, on the other hand, doesn’t care about captazaton. If you search for Pugs, pugs, PUGS, or even pUGs, you get the same results. Give your pinkies a rest and type your queries in all lower-case letters.

This negation trick is most useful when you are searching for a term, like compact, that has more than one meaning. (Cocktail party trivia: These words are called homographs.) If you want results about political agreements like the Mayflower compact, which have nothing to do with small cars or makeup cases or CDs, try something like:

compact –car –makeup -disc

In addition to weeding out homographs, the minus sign is also handy when you’re searching for people or places that share the same name, and you want results for only one. For example, when you need to make sure that a search for William Perry, the former defense secretary, does not include results for William Perry, the former defensive tackle for the Chicago Bears, try this:

“William Perry” –”the Refrigerator”

Similarly, if you want to exclude reams of pages focusing on one particular aspect of your subject, like posters of The Refrigerator, go for:

“William Perry” “The Refrigerator” –poster

Just Say Yes

Because Google ignores certain common words (described above), it sometimes misinterprets a phrase. For example, omen and The Omen are not the same thing. If a common word or number is critical to your search, you can tell Google to include it. Simply place a plus sign (+) directly in front of the term you want to include, like this:

+the omen

This search gives you results for hundreds of thousands of pages that mention the classic devil-baby movie.

Tip: Another way to force Google not to ignore little words is to use quotes, as described on page 20. For example, if you put quotes around “of thee I sing,Google gives you pages with the whole phrase, not just the words thee and sing.

Getting Lucky

After the Google Search button, the most prominent feature of Google’s home page is the I’m Feeling Lucky button. It’s enticing—does it mean you can win the lot-tery?—but it doesn’t tell you what it really does. In fact, the Lucky button takes you directly to the first Web page that you’d see in the listings if you clicked the regular Search button (Figure 1-5). In other words, the Lucky button operates on the premise that it can guess where you want to go.

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The Lucky button is a fabulous click saver when you’re looking for something fairly obvious, like the examples in Figure 1-5. On the other hand, the Lucky button is more like roulette if you’re searching for something obscure, like “purple umbrellas”, or something generic, like “pot roast recipes”, because so many pages can seem equally relevant.

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Much of the time, Google does what you expect. Quotes, “and” and “or,”special sym-bols—they’re all familiar from other search features you’ve probably used. But Google has two quirks worth noting: weird wildcards, and a ten-word query limit.

Wildcards

A lot of search engines let you use wildcards. Wildcards are special symbols—usually an asterisk (*) but sometimes a question qmark (?)—that you add to a term to indicate that you want the search to include variants of the term. The wildcard stands in for the possibilities. For example, it you’re not sure whether the Culture Club singer was Boy George or Boy Gorge, you might search for Boy G* to see how other people have completed the word.

But Google doesn’t let you include a wildcard as part of a word like that. Which, frankly, is a drag. (In programming circles, you may hear the partial-word wildcard called stemming.)

Google does, however, offer full-word wildcards. While you can’t insert an asterisk for part of a word, you can throw one into a phrase and have it substitute for a word.

Thus, searching for “chicken with its * cut offcould find: “chicken with its head cut off,”“chicken with its hair cut off,”“chicken with its electricity cut off,” and so on.

Tip: A single asterisk stands in for just one word. To set wildcards for more words, simply include more asterisks: “three * * mice” leads to “three blind fat mice,” “three very tough mice,” and so on.

The full-word wildcard is not as useful as the partial-word wildcard. But it can come in handy for filling in the blanks and when your memory fails. For example, you’ve always wondered exactly what Debbie Harry was singing in the first line of “Heart of Glass.” You think it might have been “Once I had a lung and it was a gas,” but you’re not sure. Maybe it was “Once I had a lunch and it was a gas.” Type in “Once I had a * and it was a gas”; Google gives you 416 links suggesting the lyric is actually “Once I had a love….” In short, the asterisk combined with quote marks can be good for finding quotations, song lyrics, poetry, and other phrases.

The full-word wildcard is also cool when you want the answer to a question. For example, If you’re wondering how often Halley’s comet appears, you can use the asterisk to stand in for your X factor by running this query:

Halley’s comet appears every * years

If you type your query as a question (“How often does Halley’s comet appear?”), then Google searches for instances of the question, which is a nice way to find other people with a thin knowledge of astronomy, but might not actually turn up the answer.

Tip: For a search engine that does allow partial-word wildcards, try AltaVista.

The Ten-Word Limit

Quite possibly, you’ve been using Google since Bill Clinton was president and you’ve never noticed that the site has a strict limit of ten words per search. Indeed, for most people, this limitation is not a problem. But if you’re the type who likes to search for long phrases, it can be maddening.

For example, if you’re looking for “There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold and she’s buying a stairway to heaven”, Google cuts you off after “gold.”If that’s a problem because, say, you want only instances of the whole sentence, or if you want to add additional query words (“live recording”, for example), you can employ a couple of tricks to circumvent the limit.

Obscurity rules

You can get relevant results without wasting precious keywords by limiting your query to the more unusual keywords or phrase fragments you want to find. In this case, a query that included—

“glitters is gold” “buying a stairway”

—would probably keep you on track while conserving eleven words. If that doesn’t fly, try adding words one or two at a time (“buying a stairway to heaveninstead of “buying a stairway”).

Playing the wildcard

Google doesn’t count wildcards as part of your ten-word limit. So the full-word wildcard, described above, can really help you out here. Just toss in wildcards for common words, and you’re in business. For example—

“* * lady * sure * * glitters * gold * she’s buying * stairway * heaven”

—looks strange if you’re a person, but Google is a mess of computers, and it eats that query right up while saving you nine big keywords. This is a particularly good trick if you’re looking for something with a lot of common words, like “year *, year *,” or “easy *, easy *”

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Google search results are deceptively simple. Google lists the links from what it believes are most relevant to least relevant, and each link includes snippets of text from the page that included your search terms. Google uses a variety of factors to determine relevance; see page 3 for an explanation.

Each link also includes detailed, useful information—provided you know how to read it. For example, the cache you see as part of most results lets you view slightly outdated versions of those pages, which sounds unappealing but can be a huge benefit when the grail you’re looking for is on a page that somebody has altered or removed from the Web. (Page 28 tells all about using the cache feature.)

Results pages also sometimes contain sponsored links (actually, ads), spelling suggestions, links to news stories, and other stuff that can help you focus your search. Figure 1-6 points out the components.

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Google underusers overlook the many parts of a result, but the details are worth knowing about. Note that not every result includes all the possible components.

Interpreting your results is like conducting a basic search: You could spend your whole life never bothering to learn the details, but you’d be missing out on the true power of Google. And by knowing a few tricks, you can, over your life, shave years off your search time.

Your Actual Results

The pages that Google found for you—as opposed to those that somebody paid to have you see—are usually the most important results. Here’s how a listing breaks down (Figure 1-6 reveals all the parts).

Tip: If you find the text in your Google results listing too small to read, squint no further: your browser lets you adjust the text size. On a Mac, try Cmd-(plus sign) or Cmd-(minus). On a Windows machine, try Ctrl+(plus) or Ctrl+(minus), or look for the menu item View→Text Size.

Page title

The first line of each result is a Web page title, usually descriptive, and hyperlinked to the actual page. Sometimes, if a page has no title or if Google has not yet indexed it, a URL appears instead. Either way, click the link to head over.

Text from the site

The next line or two gives you a few excerpts from the site, with your search terms in bold letters (Google tries to include the fragment with the most context, not just the first instance of your search terms on a page). Usually, this is the most important part of your results because it gives you a sense of the context in which your query appears and whether you want to click through or not. Often, the text itself can serve as the end of your search, especially if you’re looking for a quick piece of information.

URL

Next, Google serves up the Web address for that page. Sometimes, the URL is more revealing than the page title. For example, if you’re looking for Café Canopy, the page title is“Shade Grown Bird Friendly Organic and Fair Trade Coffee from Tree…”—but the URL is simply www.cafecanopy.com. If your search words appear in the URL itself, Google displays them in boldface.

Tip: Sometimes, the reverseis true: The page titleis useful, but the URLislong and complicated…and dead. You can type a shorter version of the listed URL directly into your browser, which sometimes gets you to a live part of the same site. Working from the end of the URL, lop off sections after each slash (/). For example, if www.coca-cola.com/sodas/flavors/ideas.html doesn’t work, try www.coca-cola.com/sodas/flavors/.

Size

This number is the size, in kilobytes, of the text part the page. (If Google is aware of your site but hasn’t yet indexed the text—as explained on page 3—it doesn’t offer size data.) Of course, text is usually the least voluminous part of a Web page, so this isn’t a reliable indicator of how long a site will take to load. Instead, think of it as a clue to the contents. If the page is just one or two kilobytes, and you’re looking for detailed information, it may not be much help. On the other hand, if you’re seeking out pages that have lists of links to other pages, look for pages of 20 K and up.

Date

Occasionally, a result listing displays a date between the size and the Cached links. This date is the last time Google crawled the page—that is, the last time its automated software went around, confirmed that the page still existed, noted any changes since the last time it visited, and made a copy of it (explained next)—and Google shows the date for recently changed pages only. Google keeps track of over four billion Web pages, crawling each of them more than once a month. The date tells you how fresh that copy is, which can give you a clue as to whether it’ll be helpful or not.

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Cached

As Google tracks Web pages, it keeps copies of them on its servers in a repository called a cache. While the page title link takes you to the current site, the Cached link delivers you to the copy Google made when it recorded the page. Google rerecords most pages every few weeks. This time difference is significant because if a page has changed recently, you can still see a slightly older version, which might include the nugget you’re looking for or some info you remember from a previous visit.

Note: Webmasters can set up a site so that Google won’t cache it. As a result, you might not be able to reach a previous version of every page you find in a list of Google results. In such cases you simply won’t see a cache link. For a discussion of setting up your site to ward off caching, see page 233.

Google’s cache is also handy when a page you need has been deleted or its link is broken. Just click the Cached link, and Google takes you into its time machine. Figure 1-7 shows you what a cached page looks like.

Google’s cache feature is notorious for bringing deleted Web pages back from the grave. For example, in early 2003, Microsoft accidentally published activation codes on its site that let people use its software. Googlers are still hailing the cache feature for helping them find those codes for a couple of weeks after Microsoft pulled down the offending pages.

The cache can save you not only when you’re searching for something you recall seeing earlier or something you’ve heard somebody else wants to hide, but also when you’ve deleted a page from your own site by mistake. Just hit the Cached link, right-click the page to get the source code, copy it, upload it, and you’re back in business.

But the cache isn’t a cure-all for Web staleness. First of all, a cached page only lasts until Google rerecords the live page, usually every few weeks. Second, cached pages often include dead links. So if you’re reading a hot article on a cached page, and it flows to a second page, clicking the Next Page link may get you nowhere. And third, sometimes Google updates the cache before it updates the snippet, so your result listing may include some text you want but that isn’t even in the cache anymore. Consider yourself forewarned.

Tip: The Web Archive’s Wayback Machine (http://web.archive.org) is a public archive of the Web. Unlike Google, however, it keeps track of Web sites in perpetuity—making it kind of a permanent cache. It’s a great resource when you need to find a site that’s been defunct for more than a few weeks and has therefore fallen off Google’s radar.

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Similar pages

The “Similar pages” link searches the Web for pages that fall into the same general category as that result (often, pages of a feather link to each other, which is part of how Google determines similarity). For example, the pages related to ConsumerRe-ports.org include ConsumerWorld.org, the site for the Better Business Bureau, and other consumer advocacy groups and agencies. Or, if you want to find a particular marathon training program, and you’ve clicked through to the New York Road Runners’ site (www.nyrrc.org) to no avail, try “Similar pages” to get links to Runner’s World, the Boston Athletic Association, and more. In short, similar pages is a really good way to find pages in a category, including those that don’t necessarily contain your original keywords.

Indented results

When you run a search and Google finds more than one page with your terms within the same Web site, it lists what it thinks is the most important page first, and then it indents less relevant pages, as shown in Figure 1-8.

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File format

Web sites often store documents that you can download by clicking a link. Google searches those documents—provided they’re in any of twelve common formats—and tells you if something you’re looking for is in such a file.

When your query matches words that Google finds in a formatted document, it lets you know by placing a little format marker before the page title, as Figure 1-9 shows.

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Here’s a list of the file types Google recognizes, along with their abbreviations (page 50 offers tips on searching for specific file types):

  • Adobe Portable Document Format (pdf)

  • Adobe PostScript (ps)

  • Lotus 1-2-3 (wk1, wk2, wk3, wk4, wk5, wki, wks, wku)

  • Lotus WordPro (lwp)

  • Macromedia Flash (swf)

  • MacWrite (mw)

  • Microsoft Excel (xls)

  • Microsoft PowerPoint (ppt)

  • Microsoft Word (doc)

  • Microsoft Works (wks, wps, wdb)

  • Microsoft Write (wri)

  • Rich Text Format (rtf)

  • Text (ans, txt)

Note: PDF, Adobe’s Portable Document Format,lets anyone—using any operating system—create documents that anyone else—no matter his or her operating system—can read. To read a PDF, you need Adobe’s free Acrobat Reader program, which you can download from www.adobe.com, or Mac OS X’s built-in Preview program.

But what if the page with your critical gem is a PowerPoint document, and you don’t happen to own PowerPoint? You’re in luck. Google not only keeps track of documents on the Web, it also converts them to HTML—a code your browser can read (see box on page 33)—and keeps a copy of the HTML for your viewing pleasure. Below the page title is the unassuming link, “View as HTML,” which might as well be called “Life Saver.” Just click the link, and in a split second, you’re reading the file on your browser as a normal Web page.

The “View as HTML”link is also ideal when you don’t want to spend half the morning waiting for a file to download and open. For example, if you want to view an Excel spreadsheet, your computer first has to open Excel, and then it has to download and open the actual spreadsheet file. Under the best circumstances, this process can take 10 or 20 long seconds. And if the file contains a lot of graphics, it can take a couple of semesters. Click the HTML link to bypass this morass, and you’re reading the file immediately. (If the HTML version of a document appears in a font too small for you to read, look around your browser for a feature that lets you zoom in on a page, something like View→Text Size.)

Note: Sometimes the HTML version of a file appears super-scrambled. If that’s the case, no harm, no foul: you can always go back and download the primary version. But if you don’t have the right program to read it, you can probably glean most of the info you need from the scrambled HTML version.

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Along the top and right side of a your results page Google gives you a handful of things you didn’t explicitly ask for. But just because they’re extra doesn’t mean they’re not useful. Figure 1-10 maps out the goodies.

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Tip: At the top of a results page, above the search box, Google gives you links for the Web, Images, Groups, News, Froogle, and More. Google’s standard search looks for your terms on the Web, but Google can also search other electronic collections for the same terms. Each link represents a different place Google can search; click one, and Google runs the same search there. For example, if you searched for organic coffee, and you’re wondering what the plant looks like, try the Images link. (Chapters 3, 4, and 5 tell you all about Google’s alternate searches.)

Up to Speed: What is HTML?

HTML stands for Hyper Text Markup Language, which sounds more complicated than it is.


In fact, HTML is a pretty simple system for encoding text or pictures so that Web browsers can read the informaton. For example, to make text on a Web page appear in bold, you’d put HTML tags around it, like this: <b>Beet juice makes a lousy cleaning solution.</b> And it would appear like this: Beet juice makes a lousy cleaning solution. (The <b> tag turns on bold formatting, and </b> turns it off.)

People create HTML code using word processors, browser-based composing features, and special software like Dreamweaver and Frontpage that automatically tags elements as you build a Web page. In the end, though, HTML ends up as plain text documents stored on computers connected to the Web. Your browser knows how to read these fies and display them with fancy formatting rather than ugly tags.

The summary bar

The summary bar has two important elements:

  • Each word in your search, underlined. Click one, and Google takes you to the Dictionary.com page for that word, giving you a handy definition and pronunciation guide. You can use this feature, of course,just to get a definition—even if you don’t care about the search results.

  • An estimated number of results and the time it took Google to perform your search. People like to use the number of results as a measurement of something’s popularity or importance, but given the vagaries of the Web and the idiosyncrasies of Google searches, Ouija boards might be more accurate. Still, that number is worth a glance when you’re trying to decide whether to look through all 350,000 results or not.

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Sometimes, below the summary bar and along the right side of the page are short listings with small labels identifying them as Sponsored Links. “Sponsored link” is Google-ese for ads, and they are a big part of how Google makes its money. Part of Google’s allure is that it clearly distinguishes these links from your regular results.

Here’s how ads work: When you search for a keyword that somebody has paid to be associated with, Google displays their ad on the Sponsored Links list. On Google, ads always appear separate from your regular results, and they look different, too, as Figure 1-11 shows. These ads don’t affect your results in any way. In fact, a lot of terms don’t have any ads associated with them, so you won’t always see ads.

If, for example, you search for Harry Potter books, your search results might include ads from BooksAMillion, Amazon, Buy.com, and a half dozen other places that sell Harry Potter books. If you search for just Harry, you get no ads. Figure 1-11 shows you another example.

Note: Neither Google nor the people who buy the ads are tracking your searches; they’re simply displaying Web-based ads for anyone who searches for certain words.

A lot of the time, you can ignore the ads. But because they are associated with your specific search, sponsored links can be good resources, particularly if you’re looking to buy something. Bear in mind that if Google has more than eight advertisers for your keywords, the sponsored links can change on successive results pages. You also might see different ads if you run the same search more than once. So if you’re looking for something that might have a useful sponsored link, keep a close eye on them, since the one that might help you could be gone the next time you run the same search.

Note: Google’s ad program is called AdWords, and advertisers pay only if somebody clicks through their ad. The cost per click varies from 50 cents to $50. If you’re interested in placing your own ads on Google, Chapter 9 tells you everything you need to know.

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Other things that can show up: news links and spelling suggestions

If you’re looking for something timely—like the latest trial scoop on a deposed CEO—Google often gives you a link called something like, “News results for Martha Stewart,” which takes you to Google’s own news service. Clicking such links does the same general thing as clicking the News tab on the summary bar. Below that, Google gives you a few direct links for related news stories on media Web sites. (Google News is explained in depth in Chapter 3).

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The other thing you might find under the summary bar is a big question in red letters: “Did you mean: xyz?”

XYZ is an alternate—sometimes corrected—spelling of your search terms (see Figure 1-12). For example, if you searched for “blue suede shoos,Google asks if you meant “blue suede shoes.”(On the other hand, if you searched for “blue suede shoes,Google assumes you know what you’re doing, and it doesn’t offer another spelling.) If you click Google’s suggestion, it runs your search again with the alternate spelling.

Warning: Because Google recognizes so many terms, it’s not such a hot idea to use the feature for impromptu spell-checking, even when you don’t care about the search results. For example, if you wanted to find out how to spell “careful,” and you tried a misspelling that’s not a word, like “cairful,” you’d wind up in trouble: Google doesn’t give you an alternate spelling.

The Stuff at the Bottom of the Results Page

The important links at the bottom of a Google results page, shown in Figure 1-13, are those that let you click through to the next page of results. The big blue arrow, the Next link, the number 2 (on the line labeled Result Page), the first “o”in the word Goooooogle, and the“le”at the end of the word all take you to the next page of results. Click each of the subsequent “o’s” or any of the numbers under the looooooogo to jump ahead to that page of results.

At the bottom of the page, you get another chance to retype your query if your first attempt didn’t work. Once again, you can narrow down your search by clicking the “Search within results” link, described on page 21.

Note: The Google logo at the bottom of the page grows extra “o’s” when a search has more results. The maximum, however, is ten “o’s,” even if a search has more than ten pages worth of results. (Links to pages 11 and higher magically appear as you click through the first few pages).

Below the search box is a link with a question: “Dissatisfied? Help us improve.” The link takes you to a form where you can tell Google what you were looking for, why you were disappointed, and whether you wanted to find a particular URL. You’re not likely to hear back from the company, but they say they read their mail.

Gem in the Rough: When Misspelling Is Your Friend

Runnng a misspelled search can sometmes be to your advantage. Because anyone is free to misspell anything
the Web, a lot of pages can wind up left out of a search you check only the correct spellng. Proper names are particularly worth checking a few ways. For example, nearly 7,000 Web sites mention Arnold Schwarznegger, although the governator spells his name “Schwarzenegger.”

And names that orginate in another aphabet (Hebrew, Arabic, Cyrillic) almost always have several valid translitera-tions. “Mohammed,” for example, can be spelled dozens of ways in English. Unfortunatey, Google doesn’t ofer alternate misspellings. If you search for Mohamed Atta, you get nearly 40,000 results and a suggestion for the spelling “Mohammed Atta.” But if you search for Mohammed Atta, Google doesn’t suggest “Mohamed Atta” or any other variation on the name.

The bottom line? If Google doesn’t give you an additional choice, you have to get creative with spelling.

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Google this, Google that. Is it always the best search engine? No. Here are some reasons to use other search sites:

  • Google simply doesn’t perform every search trick you might need. For example, it doesn’t search for certain file types, like audio or video clips. If you want to find those, try AlltheWeb.com, AltaVista.com or Dogpile.com. And Google doesn’t cluster results, either. Clustering is a hugely useful feature in which a search engine groups results by topic, as shown in Figure 1-14. Vivisimo.com is the clustering king. Nor does Google allow partial-word wildcards (page 24); try nearly any other search engine for that feature.

  • Many sites perform deeper, more specialized searches than Google. For example, to find a person’s email address, you could try typing his or her name into Google. But if you get back random results with no clear email connection, you might try MetaEmailSearchAgent, or MESA, at http://mesa.rrzn.uni-hannover.de/. MESA simultaneously queries the major Web-based email search engines, like WhoWhere and Switchboard.

Similarly, Google can be a quick way to find out what an acronym stands for. Or it can return a morass of confusing and unrelated results. For example, when you search Google for “PDQ”, you get links for cancer-related sites, printing, yachts, phones, and something called “Touch Free vehicle washes.” Even if you narrow it down by trying “PDQ stands for”, you still get links about printing, dental work, catamarans, and the Physician Data Query. Pretty Damn Quick shows up, but it’s hard to tell how meaningful that is. Acronym Finder (www.acronymfinder.com), on the other hand, generates a tidy list of possibilities, with the most common at the top (Figure 1-15).

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  • Some topic-specific directories are simply more fine-tuned than Google’s regular full-text search. For example, you can click through the Google Directory to News→Newspapers→Regional→United States→California and come up with dozens of direct links to publications, plus subcategories for College, High School, Kern County, Los Angeles County, San Diego County, and a related category for Regional→North America→United States→California→News and Media.

But if you want more helpful subcategories and more papers, try NewsLink (http:// newslink.org), a directory for newspapers around the world. Under Newspapers→ By State→California, the site lists hundreds of papers grouped by Major Metro, Daily, Business, Non-Daily, Alterative, Specialty, Limited, Promotional, Campus, Association, and Inactive. The Glendale Gazette may be gone, but its memory lives on.

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Still, Google has a ton of links for California papers, probably plenty for the average search. Which is a good example of why Google is nearly always a sound place to start, especially if you don’t know where else to turn.

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Google has a handful of tricks up its sleeve. Here are six special and useful things you can do with Google—several of which even search-hounds tend to overlook.

Definitions

When you can’t remember what “sedulous” means, or you want to find out what a “wireless LAN” is, you don’t have to bother opening the dictionary or calling your friendly neighborhood IT guy. Instead, Google can come to your rescue. Type define into the blank search box, followed by your term, like this—

define sedulous

—and then press Enter to have Google include a definition at the top of your search results. The definitions come from Web sites Google tracks.

If you want a list of definitions and no other results, type in define followed by a colon and your terms, with no spaces on either side of the colon, like this:

define:wireless LAN

You can also get a list of definitions by typing your term into the Google Deskbar (described on page 187) and pressing Ctrl+D (not available for the Mac).

Tip: If Google doesn’t come up with a definition that helps you, or in rare cases, if it doesn’t come up with one at all, try searching for your terms at www.OneLook.com, which aggregates definitions from nearly 1,000 dictionaries. That ought to do it.

Calculator

This trick is extra cool: You can use the blank Google search box as a calculator. Just enter an equation, like 2+2, and then press Enter or Google Search to have Google tell you 2 + 2 = 4. For multiplication, use the asterisk (*), like this: 2*3. For division, use the slash (/), like this: 10/3. (Use the equal sign [=] at the end of your equation if you’re worried Google might not realize your query is actually math.) You can also use the search box to perform unit conversions, like this: 5 kilometers in miles or how many teaspoons in a cup? For a chart listing of units of measure that Google can convert, check out Nancy Blachman’s site, GoogleGuide, at www.googleguide. com/calculator.html.

The calculator works for simple equations and for seriously complex problems, too, like logarithms and trigonometric functions. You can find a rundown of its capabilities at www.google.com/help/calculator.html. And if you know what physical constants are, or the phrase “base of the natural system of logarithms”makes your heart pitter patter with joy, GoogleGuide does a terrific job of steering you through these features.

Tip: For a great alternativeinterface to Google’s calculator, check out Soople at http://soople.com/soople_in-tcalchome.php. Page 56 tells you all about it.

Phonebook

Google provides a phonebook service, allowing you to look up a phone number and address (with corresponding map) for business or residential listings. You can make it work two ways, either as part of your regular results (with a cute phone icon in-dicating that something is a phonebook listing), or as a separate set of listings, both shown in Figure 1-16.

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To have a single residential listing appear at the top of a regular results page, try typing any of the following into the Google search box:

  • first name (or first initial), last name, city (state is optional)

  • first name (or first initial), last name, state

  • first name (or first initial), last name, area code

  • first name (or first initial), last name, zip code

  • last name, city, state

  • last name, zip code

For a single business listing, typing in the company name along with city and state or zip code ought to do the trick.

Tip: You can also try an area code and phone number—business or residential—to get the name and address associated with it in Google’s phonebook. There’s no need to include any punctuation.

To get a page of nothing but phonebook listings, type the word phonebook followed by a colon, then a space, and then the name and state you want to look up. (Weirdly, you must capitalize the state abbreviation or Google doesn’t recognize it, but you can’t capitalize phonebook.) The phonebook listings give you only about 600 results, so if you’re looking for a common name, add the city (if you know it) to narrow your search. Your query should look something like this:

phonebook: ansonia veterinary center NY

or

phonebook: ansonia veterinary center new york NY

You can also narrow your search by telling Google whether you want to search for business listings or residential listings only. To limit your search to residential listings, type rphonebook before the name and state. For business listings, use bphonebook. (If you don’t specify one or the other, and your results have both types, Google gives you five of each and lets you pick which you’d like the full set for.)

Note: Google has a parallelservice, Google Local, that provides contactinformationfor businesses anywhere in the U.S. Unlike the phonebook feature, which requires you to know a name, Google Local works more like a Yellow Pages, letting you search by business type (eyeglasses, or bagels, or dog walkers) in a specific zip code or town. The results look similar to phonebook listings. Sometimes when you run a search even with a business name, you get results from Google Local—which has a compass logo rather than a phone icon. Page 59 explains more about the feature.

The phonebook trick has a few quirks:

  • You can’t use the minus sign to exclude terms. For example, if you want to find every New Yorker with the last name Doe except those with the first name John, you can’t run a search rphonebook: doe -john new york NY.

  • Wildcards don’t work. If you’ve forgotten the exact name of a certain sports bar in Times Square, you can’t throw in the asterisk to stand in for the word you’re forgetting: bphonebook: espn * new york NY doesn’t work. On the other hand, the same query without the wildcard (bphonebook: espn new york NY) gives you every establishment in the city with ESPN in the name, so you’re good to go.

  • You can’t use OR to find listings in more than one state. For example, the query bphonebook: espn (NY OR NJ) gives you listings only in New Jersey (Google reads the rightmost part of your query). On the other hand, you can use OR with the name of a person or business. So if you want to find an array of chain restaurants in the heart of Manhattan, try bphonebook: (espn OR hooters) new york NY.

Tip: If you want to remove your listing from Google’s phonebook, head over to www.google.com/help/ pbremoval.html, which provides a delisting form for residences and a snail-mail address to send delisting requests for businesses.

Street Maps

If you enter a U.S. street address, including city and state or zip code, Google usually tops your results with links to several maps.

Stock Quotes

If you enter a ticker symbol for a company or mutual fund listed on the New York Stock Exchange, Nasdaq, or the American Stock Exchange, Google begins your results with a link for that corporation or fund; when you click the link, Google takes you to a page with tabs of stock information from Yahoo Finance, Quicken, and other companies. You can enter one symbol, like this: msft (for Microsoft). Or several symbols, like this:

msft gm dis

If you don’t know the ticker symbol for a company, try the full name. If Google recognizes it as a public company, it provides a link for stock quotes at the end of the result for that company (Figure 1-17).

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Tip: Sometimes, adding the word company or corporation after the proper namein your query(like Microsoft Corporation) can prompt Google to recognize that you want stock info.

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Hardly anyone knows this, but Google lets you search for numbers on the Web. And not just any numbers, but specific tracking IDs, U.S. patent numbers, FAA airplane registration numbers, FCC equipment ID tags, universal product codes, maps by area code, and vehicle identification numbers. When it comes up with a match for your number, it shows you a special listing at the top of your results page, as in Figure 1-18.

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The numeric service is new and includes just the quirky searches described above. Still, when you need to look up those numbers, this feature can save you a mess of clicking around the complex Web sites of delivery services and government agencies. Here’s how to run the specific searches:

  • UPS, FedEx, and U.S. Postal Service tracking numbers. Looking up package tracking numbers and finding out whether your Lands’ End long underwear is stuck in a warehouse in Kentucky has long been a major benefit of the Web. The process just got easier. Simply type your tracking number in a blank search box, and Google provides a link to a Web page with your item’s transit history.

  • Patent numbers. If you look up patent numbers regularly, or ever, you know the US Patent and Trademark Office has a nice, thorough Web site that makes you jump through a lot of hoops to find a patent by number. Stave off a few gray hairs by using Google to look them up instead. Just preface the number with the word patent, like this: patent 5123123.

  • Universal product codes (UPCs). For some basic information on consumer products, like their manufacturer, try looking up the UPC, like this: 036000250015 (no need to include UPC first). Most of the time, you can find UPCs under an item’s barcode.

  • Federal Communications Commission equipment ID numbers. If you’re an engineer at a wireless phone company, and you want inside info on a competitor’s product, check out the FCC’s database. To get there, type fcc into Google, followed by the ID number, like this: fcc G9H2-7930.

  • Flight numbers. Want to find out if your cousin’s flight from Ottawa is on time? Check flight status by typing in the airline and flight number, like this: usair 50
  •  Federal Aviation Administration airplane registration numbers. If you’re the head of a startup airline, and you’re considering buying a used plane from one of the big industry players, this feature is for you! Just type in the registration number directly, like this: n233aa, and Google gives you a link to the FAA site with some details about the manufacturer and history of that plane.

Tip: You can typically find airplane registration numbers on the tail of a plane.

  • Vehicle identification numbers (VINs). If you’re buying a used car, you can use the VIN to learn more about that individual auto’s history (the VIN is usually on a small metal tag at the bottom edge of the windshield). Type in a number, like this: JH4NA1157MT001832, and Google provides a link to the Carfax info for that car.

  • Maps by area code. Type in an area code, like 212, and the top of your Google results will include a link for a Mapquest map of that region. The maps generally cover a larger area than the area code, but they can give you a sense of whether 609 is in New Jersey or Idaho.

Note: If you’d like Google to add another type of number to its search service, let the company know: suggestions@google.com.

A Final Tip: Googling Google

If you find yourself staring at a Google feature you’ve never heard of before, or if you’re wondering when they introduced the calculator, or if you want to know about getting a job at the company, head to the bottom of the home page or any search results page and click About Google.

The links on About Google take you to all four corners of the Google universe—if you can figure out where to look. Is the calculator under Web Search Features or Services & Tools? Half the time, it’s easier to simply Google Google. There’s a blank search box on almost every page within About Google, usually labeled “Search our site”or “Find on this site.” When you run a search (calculator introduced) you get a regular page of Google results, complete with handy snippets. It’s a terrific timesaver—letting your learn within seconds that the number-crunching feature debuted in the summer of 2003. Too bad they don’t make Google for your life.

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