7.1. The Syntax of a Google Query
The primary Google search interface, the Google home page , is famously simple and uncluttered (as shown in Figure 7-1).
Figure 7-1. In its simplest form, Google search returns results for keywords entered in the search box
You enter a word or words, also called keywords, in the Google search form. (Several keywords make up a search term, also called a query.)
As you probably know, when you click the I'm Feeling Lucky button, Google opens the page that is the top-ranked search result for your query.
Experienced researchers don't usually bother with the I'm Feeling Lucky button because it is unlikely that you will find what you need this way, and it wastes timeeven if it is fun!
Clicking the Google Search button opens the first page of Google's search results for your query. Google's search result pages also display AdWords ads that are contextually relevant to the query that generated the page.
7.1.1. Google Syntax and Operators
Google searches support a number of operators, including:
The AND operator tells Google to explicitly join two keywords in a query. It must be uppercase (cannot be written and).
The OR operator, which can also be written using the pipe character (|), matches any of the terms joined with this operator in a query. It must be uppercase (cannot be written or).
The "plus" operator, called the inclusion operator, forces Google to include words, such as stop words (defined below), in a search.
The "minus" operator, called the exclusion operator, looks for results that do not have the specified keyword in them. For example, a search for virus-computer finds results that have to do with viruses, but not computers (particularly useful if you are looking for biologic viruses).
To avoid confusion, all search terms are printed in this book in literal font (as in Google AdWords). If quotes are shown in the search termas in "Computer Programming"then those quotes are part of the search term and would be typed in by the user.
You should also know that Google searches omit many common words, called stop words . Stop words that are omitted include "and," "for," "the," and most punctuation. If you want to include a stop word in your search, you need to include it within double quotes.
Double quoting also serves the purpose of searching for an entire quoted string. For example, to search for the film Star Wars III, you could use the query "Star Wars III". Without the quotes, the III would be omitted as a stop word.
7.1.2. The Rules of Simple Search
Searching with Google can be really simple, but it helps to keep some basic rules of Google search syntax in mind:
Implicit AND connection
Google assumes that two or more words in a query are connected by an AND operator, even when the AND is omitted. A search for Landscape Photography is the same as a search for Landscape AND Photography.
Google searches for all words in a query, unless they are stop words.
Results can be anywhere
A successful search finds results anywhere in a document (such as in HTML and meta information) not just in its text.
Word order matters
The words in a search are ordered in terms of importance from left to right.
Words in a query that are close together in a search result are returned ahead of results where the words are farther apart.
Google is not case sensitive
Unless your query is double-quoted, Google does not care about capitalization. For example, new york matches New York in a Google search (but "new york" would not, because of the quotes).
7.1.3. Effective Searching
Google searches tend to be more effectiveproducing better search resultsif the following concepts are kept in mind:
Google looks for words, not meaning
Google's algorithms look for the occurrences of words and phrases, not the meaning of words. This implies that it helps to think about how words are likely to be used in context and in web pages when formulating a search.
Specificity and distinctiveness in keyword choice helps
If you search using generic wordswords that are used in a great many documents on the Webyou won't get as useful a result set as if you can pinpoint more unusual words that are relevant to your search.
Use singular, plural, and alternate word forms
Since Google is looking for words, not meaning, you may need to use alternative forms of words in your searches to get the widest results. A search for photograph, photographs, and photography may each yield different results.
You can use the OR operator to search for several forms of the same word: photograph | photographs | photography.
These concepts related to effective searching have big implications for participants in the AdWords program (see Part III for more about AdWords). An important part of AdWords is selecting the right keywords to target your ads against. It's hard to cost-effectively target generic words that generate massive search results; it makes much more sense to target narrow quirky words (and phrases).
7.1.4. The Google Results Page
A typical Google results page is shown in Figure 7-2. It's a good idea to learn a little more about what to expect on a results page and what ads to expect, because Google search results pages are where more than half of all AdWords ads turn up.
Ads placed with the Google network using AdWords show up on web content (via AdSense), in third-party pages with whom Google has contracted, and on Google's search results. The Google search results are the most important of these from a dollars-and-cents viewpoint and also have the best click-through rates (CTR).
Results are returned in the order of their PageRank the complex formula Google uses to determine the importance of a web pagein Google's index. Each search results page provides statistics in the upper-right corner (above the actual search results) that show you an estimate of how many results were found and how long a search took.
Figure 7-2. A Google search results page provides a great deal of information in each result block as well as "sponsored links" (AdWords ads)
Each of the results on the page is represented by a snippet of text from the web page the result points to, called a search results block. A link to the web page is part of the search results block, with the title of the page as the text for the link if it is available (the page's URL is used if the title isn't available).
Each result block also provides a Cached link and a Similar Pages link . If you click the Cached link, a copy of the page saved by Google's servers will open. This is useful in case the page has changed since it was indexed by Google. It's also handy for finding where on a page the search terms are located: they are highlighted in the cached version.
The Similar Pages link opens pages that Google determines bear a close relationship to the page found in the search results.
Using the Google related operator in a search is equivalent to clicking the Similar Pages link following a search result.
Following Similar Pages links for a search is a great technique for participants in AdWords to ferret out keyword alternatives. The sites that are in part of the similar results may be what the traffic you are interested in selling to is interested in visiting; you can get ideas from these sites about what keywords to bid on.
Learning More About Google Search
This section provides enough about the mechanics of working with Google search so that you can skillfully use the Google AdSense and AdWords programs. But, obviously, it is not a complete guide to becoming an experienced researcher with Google.
For more information about researching with Google, begin with the Google Help documentation. A good starting place on the Web is http://www.google.com/help/basics.html.
Google: The Missing Manual (O'Reilly) is a great introduction to Google search tools and techniques. Google Hacks (O'Reilly) provides more in-depth technical information. My own Building Research Tools with Google for Dummies (Wiley) explains how to use Google as a professional research tool, what information you can expect to find in Google (and what isn't there), and how to evaluate the credibility of information you do find on the Web.