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Searching Like A Pro:
Tips On Searching From An SEO

How many times a day do you run a search only to find that the top sites don't yield the results you're looking for? Sometimes this can be based solely on the type of search you're running (i.e. there is a lot of information and it's a broad field), sometimes it can be caused by those pesky SEO's out there doing their job and other times it's simply a matter of knowing how and where to search for what you're looking to find.

Let's begin by discussing the origin of this article. I was looking through our site statistics and noticed an anomaly. The phrase "seo for yahoo" was showing up. Now, this is-and-of-itself is not so odd - there are many people out there looking for ways to rank on Yahoo! however what I did find odd was that all of those clicks were coming from Google. To me this didn't make sense so one night on the phone I decided to ask my father about it. "If you were looking for a way to rank on Yahoo! how would you search?" I got the same answer as my stats showed, on Google. To me it seems obvious that if you want to rank highly on Yahoo! and you're looking for methods to do so, that you would naturally go to Yahoo! and look for sites that are ranking highly there. If they can rank themselves on Yahoo! then logically they know how to rank sites highly on Yahoo!

This got me thinking about the way that I search vs. the way many people do and in watching others it became clear that a good percentage of the time people spend weeding through the results could be eliminated if they knew how and where to search, something I have spent more hours learning than I would care to reveal.

In this article we will cover the following areas:

  • Long tail phrases
  • The quotation marks
  • The cache
  • Different services
  • Different engines

Long Tail Phrases

The term "long tail" refers to phrases that are non-generic or extended. What I mean by this is that we have added keywords to the search query to specify what type of information we are looking for. Let's take for example a person who is trying to decide what kind of car to buy. They've looked at some Hondas and just want to know more about them. Here are the different types of searches:

Generic - honda (you will end up with a top 10 filled with Honda sites, but what if you want to know about its ratings, reviews and consumer experience)

Long tail if interested in reviews - honda consumer reviews, honda driver rating, honda award, etc.

Long tail if interested in experiences of others - honda consumer review, honda "my experience", honda blog, etc.

I think you get the idea.

What you need to ask yourself is really what kind of information are you looking for. Any of the long tail phrases will give you results outside of the Honda websites where you will get consumer opinions on the car, awards they may have won, etc.

Long tail phrases are the godsend of the searching world. If you run a search and can't find what you want, think about what other words would likely appear on the page and add those to the search box. You'll greatly increase your chances of finding the appropriate information appear higher in the search results. Which brings us to quotation marks.

Quotation Marks

I highly doubt as though there's any more useful function of searching that is less used than the quotation mark. Quotation marks tell the engine that the words inside must appear on the page in exactly that order. You'll notice above and in one of my examples I used the query - honda "my experience". This would tell the engine that I want the word Honda to appear on the page as well as the exact phrase "my experience". If we think about it, the results should contain feedback from people who have an experience with the brand. While there are a couple sites that appear in the top 10 we may not be interested in the majority provide just this type of information.

The Cache

The cache pages of the search engine results don't so much reduce the number of pages you're going to have to look at to find what you want, they simply speed up the process of checking them. Try running a search for something and rather than clicking the actual link to the site, click on the cache of it. What you will find is that all the phrases you have entered into the query are colored so that you can find them easily on the page. This will allow you to quickly scan a page for specific words rather than having to read through everything. In the example above the word Honda would be one color and "my experience" would be shown in a different color. This will allow you to quickly scroll through the page for the words "my experience" to make sure that they are indeed referring to their experience with a Honda as opposed to some other experience they had.

Different Services

All of the major engines offer different search services. Here are just a few of my favorites:

Blogs:

When searching for blogs I like Google Blog Search. There are many great blog search services out there including Technorati and more but I've found Google's Blog Search to be the easiest to access since chances are, I'm already on Google. Blogs are a great resource when looking for opinions and information you may not find through traditional media.

News:

All three major engines have great news search engines. I'm not going to recommend one over the other here as when you're looking for news, it's great to check them all as the current nature of the news results in each engine providing different results based on their spidering frequency. You can visit Google News here, Yahoo! News here and MSN news here.

Research Information:

When you're doing research for a big paper or just want some scholarly information to settle an argument then Google Scholar is a great stop. This is a site I visit when I'm looking up information to help my boys with school or after sitting puzzled while reading Steven Hawking wondering exactly what the heck he's referring to in some space-time reference or another. This in one to add to your favorites if you're a student, a researcher or you just find yourself with odd questions that only a scholar could answer. You'll find Google Scholar here.

Images:

When you're looking for images or maybe a new desktop for your PC then there are two places to go that will save you time. My favorite is Flickr where most images are viewed and commented on however Google Images (that's right - Google again) can often provide better results for some queries. To use the example above, if I were looking for a new desktop for my computer I would likely use Google Images. The advantage of using the image search is that it allows you to see - well - an image in the results. You can then go to the page it originates from and see what else is there but it can cut the time it takes to find a site that has the type of images you're looking for significantly. Flickr is better for images you won't find elsewhere on the web. For example, if I wanted to view some photos others had taken at the Search Engine Strategies Conference in San Jose I would use Flickr. They have a tag system as well so people with a common theme can tag their images similarly to make them easy to find. For example, at SES San Jose a tag was sessanjose2006. Enter that tag and most of the photos taken there (that people wanted to publish at least) will appear in the results.

Videos:

There are many great services for searching for video content online. You've most likely heard of YouTube. If you hadn't heard of it before Google agreed to purchase the property, you've likely heard of it since the price tag of $1.65 billion was announced and widely discussed in the news. The service will be added to Google Video at some point in the future. But again, to lock yourself into Google and Google properties severely limits what you'll find and how you'll find it. If videos are what you're looking for then you'll also want to visit Spiked Humor, which operates similar to YouTube (visitor submissions) and a new service that's been launched by Lycos called Lycos Cinema. Lycos Cinema provides a new take in video publishing on the web wherein they are displaying ads at the beginning and the end of the video (which reminds me of what they're now doing in real cinemas except that Lycos doesn't charge $20 including popcorn to watch it). The videos you'll find there are submitted by publishers so you're not likely to find the newest releases but you will find a great collection, scheduled viewing times and you get the opportunity to chat live with other viewers while the movie is playing.

Different Engines

You may not believe me when I say it but there is more than one engine. I know I know, shocking but true. Whether you use Google, Yahoo!, MSN, Ask or one of the other lesser known engines, most people tend to stick to their first choice without taking too much time to consider that there might just be other engines that can run the query better.

Make no mistake, I use Google and when I say I use Google I mean I use it to search dozens if not hundreds of times per day. As an SEO this is simply a fact of life but when I'm searching for personal interest my use of engines varies from the searching patterns adopted at work.

While I do generally tend to stick to the major engines I find that each one serves a different function. They loosely break down as follows:

Google - Good for finding general information and, if used in conjunction with the tips above, some specific information if you know precisely what you're looking for and what words are likely to appear on that page.

Yahoo! & Ask - If I'm not sure exactly what I'm looking for but I know what type of information I want then these are the two engines of choice. Both deal well with queries put in the form of a question and provide highly relevant results. Ask also provides some interesting features including Binoculars that appear beside the domain name which, when hovered over, show a snapshot of the site allowing you to decide if you want to go there or not before clicking on the result and waiting for it to load.

MSN - As I mentioned above, there are times when you'll find the results skewed by pesky SEO's. With a lower market share than either Google or Yahoo!, MSN is often overlooked by SEO's who focus on where the majority of the traffic lives. With extremely active crawlers MSN has a great pool of web pages to reference and is far less "gamed" by SEO's. Their algorithm isn't as advanced as those of the other two major engines but at the same time there aren't as many SEO's building sites that focus on high rankings for MSN so they don't need it to be.

Alternative Engines - When I'm thinking of alternative engines I'm generally thinking of niche or regional engines that focus on specific information. If, for example, I was looking for information on sites in or information on my native British Columbia, Canada I would visit Listings BC. The majority of these are not so much search engines as searchable directories which means that the pool of sites is likely much smaller however the odds of relevancy are much higher.

Conclusion

I sincerely hope that you find this information useful and your searching experience made better with these tips. There are certainly more ways to increase your searching abilities than I've been able to list here but to cover absolutely every scenario would be virtually impossible in anything short of a 300 page book. What I have tried to cover above are the features I use the most and which apply to the majority of searchers. You of course are unique and you may have other requirements or may have developed your own tactics for dealing with irrelevant or less relevant results. Either way, hopefully you feel your time reading this article has been worthwhile and you can now venture forth with increased searching abilities and reduced frustration.

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