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Search the Web: Search Basics


Comfortable searching the web?  This guide will help you rethink how you search the web in school and at home.  Take control of what you find!

The Basic Search

1 Keywords
Effective searches begin with keywords. User identification of keywords greatly effects the results they obtain.

2 Search Engines 
Search engines use a web crawler or robot (bot) program, which moves around the web, link to link, to develop index pages which are, in turn, used to return results for the keywords in the query.  

3 Results
Search engines rely on proprietary algorithms (step-by-step mathematical procedures). In theory, the more keywords found on a page, the more likely it will be determined as relevant to your search.  However, different search engines take into account different variables.  They also search different parts of the page, which can greatly effect results.

Dealing with Frustration

Your search returns MILLIONS of hits.  What do you do?  
Try using more keywords to narrow your search.  Consider related terminology. 

Your search returns only a FEW hits. What do you do? 
Check your spelling.  Reconsider your keywords.  Are there synonyms you could search by?  Try another search engine. Ask for help!

Your search returns a "file not found" message. What do you do? 
The information has probably been moved or removed.  Try searching for the TITLE of the document, in case it's been posted elsewhere under the same title.  Try your search on Google.  It caches old copies.

Your search returns a "server error" message. What do you do? 
The server where the document is located may be down or busy.  Note the title or URL of the document and try again later.

Other frustrations?  Leave comments, below.

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Navigation Tools

Web Directories

Web directories (or indexes) are designed around categories.  They offer a popular or choice selection of websites, rather than access to the entire web. This makes them perfect for browsing and broad searches.  Online subject guidesare directories allow you to search within the subject.  Great for getting a grasp of information within a field of study.

Search engines

Search engines use web crawlers to search for keywords and phrases throughout the web. Some search engines look only through page titles and headers, while others search full documents, including PDFs.   The algorithms used by some search engines is proprietary and result ranking varies. Targeted search enginesadd variables in that target information commonly sought by a specific group of people.

Metasearch engines

Specialty engines such asDogpile and Metacrawler search other search engines.  They are great for doing a broad sweep of the web, though they may be limited by their reliance on basic search terms.  Some metasearch engines also return "paid for" results, meaning ranks are no indication of reliability.   


Bibliographies found in other resources, particular those online, can serve as an excellent means of identifying and locating information.  If a resource you are using includes citations from online articles likely to provide additional information, by all means, pull up those resources.  If no URL is provided, try searching for the article, by title, using a search engine or tools that search the invisible web.

Library Information and Media Center - Monona Grove High School - Monona, Wisconsin

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