How to Perform Web Searches - dummies

By Faithe Wempen

You might occasionally have a specific address of a page you want to view, or you might stumble across a hyperlink that looks interesting to check out, but you will probably find the majority of the web sites you visit by doing searches.

A search engine is a web-based utility that searches a huge index of web page content based on keywords you specify. It then returns pages full of search results consisting of hyperlinks and brief descriptions of the sites they represent.

There are many different search engines, each one owned by a large company with huge, powerful servers that maintain their databases. Performing the same search with different search engines will likely produce similar but not identical results.

One way to use a search engine is to display its web page and enter the desired keywords in the Search box on that page. For example, Google is one of the most popular search engines. The table lists some popular search engines you may want to explore.

Popular Search Engines
Search Engine URL
Web Crawler
Dog Pile

Internet Explorer has search capability built into its Address bar, so you don’t have to visit a search engine’s website in order to search. Simply type the desired keywords directly into the Address bar and press Enter, and IE will use your default search engine to perform the search.

Unless you have changed it, Bing is the default search engine in Internet Explorer. To make a different search engine your default, click the down arrow on the Address bar to open its menu, and then click the Add button. On the web page that appears, choose another search engine add-on, and follow the prompt to install it.

From that point on, you can switch default search engines by clicking a search engine icon at the bottom of the Address bar’s menu.

Regardless of the interface you use for your search (that is, whether you go to a search website or search using the Address bar), your results will come back as a list. The figure shows a Bing search of rhubarb pie recipes.


The search results appear in order of relevance, with the sites most relevant to your search at the top. However, the results will probably also contain ads, or sponsored links. These are links for sites that have paid the search engine company for high placement on the list.

Not all search engines make such a clear distinction between the best results (most relevant to your search) and the ones where the most money has been paid for the placement.

To check out an entry, click its URL or title. Or, to open it in its own tab, right-click the hyperlink and choose Open in New Tab.

You might find that a search using only one or two keywords returns a huge number of results, so many that you could spend days wading through them. The key to smart web searching is to use many keywords to narrow down what you want. You can even type real-language sentences as searches, such as What is the best dishwasher brand?

Not all websites contain reliable and objective information, even those that purport to do so. Some sites may have a political or religious bias, or be designed to sell you a product or service. Be aware of the potential agendas of the site owners, and don’t be fooled into believing that something is true just because it’s on the web.

Some search engines allow you to use some special syntax for more control over your searches. For example, you might be able to enter – (a minus sign) before a word to have the search exclude that word. Say you want to find pages about badgers, but your search results keep turning up lot of pages devoted to the Wisconsin Badgers sports team.

Using badger -Wisconsin would eliminate all results that featured the word Wisconsin in them. The table lists some common advanced search syntax. Not all search engines support all the syntax listed.

Syntax for Advanced Searching
Syntax Description Example
Quotation marks Put quotation marks around phrases to be found exactly as
“Imagine all the people”
– (minus sign) Excludes a keyword –Wisconsin
NOT Excludes a keyword NOT Wisconsin
* Represents an unknown value “A * saved is a * earned”
OR Searches for either of two words Olympics 2014 OR 2016
.. (two periods) Searches within a given range cars $10,000..$15,000