We’ve all been there. It’s late; you’re tired, but you’re dying to know who played the supporting role in the film you’ve just watched. His name escapes you, but you’re pretty sure he was also in the most recent episode of Dr Who.

The curiosity is killing you, so you turn to the only possible source for the answer. That’s right – your favourite internet search engine. Enthusiasm takes hold of you. Your fingers mash the keys, chaotically crafting the following sentence: “who was the guy who was in The Lone Ranger and also in Dr Who?”

But search engines aren’t genies. And though sometimes it seems as though they understand perfect English, they don’t. They speak the language of keywords!

That search you typed in probably won’t get you your answer, but don’t suffer in vain! Here’s a few tips to make sure that your next search gets you what you want fast.

Keep it Simple

Because search engines function by comparing the words you give them to websites, it’s often better to give the search engine a more specific query. Break your search down to its simplest elements.

For example, the lengthy search phrase above could become “supporting actor The Lone Ranger and Dr Who.” This helps to eliminate results from unrelated web pages. When searching, less is more!

Vary Your Terms

If your first search doesn’t get you what you’d wanted, there’s no need to panic. One quick technique to better your search is to swap in new words.

Instead of hamburger, try burger. Instead of mechanic, try technician. Swapping words like this is likely to get you wildly different results, increasing your chance of finding what you need.

Search for Exact Phrases

By using the quotation marks (or inverted commas for our British readers), you can tell a search engine to only return results that have the exact words you’ve input in that exact order. This is a great trick for finding song lyrics. If you want to know the name of a song, but can only remember a few lines, put them between quotes:

“total eclipse of the heart”

And if you don’t remember the whole phrase, you can always use the asterisk (*) to allow for wildcard words. For example, “total eclipse of the *” returns lyrics for the Bonnie Tyler song as well as a video featuring a total eclipse of the sun. Cool!

Use OR and NOT to Fine Tune

The operator OR tells a search engine to look for one word or another, but not both. This is a great way to vary your search terms without having to enter multiple searchers. For example, try searching for “bedroom OR room for rent” next time you’re looking for a place to live.

The NOT operator helps to exclude websites from the search that contain certain words. For example, if you search for “dog breeder NOT Labrador,” you won’t find any Labrador breeders in the search.

Note that both the OR and NOT operators need to be typed in all caps.

That’s all the tips we have for you today, but if you’re looking for more, Google has a webpage full of them.

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