Don Jones

Tech | Career | Musings

Whatever search engine you prefer – Google, Bing, Dogpile, whatever – it’s hugely important that you be good at it. Especially if you’re in the IT industry, the ability to hunt stuff down on the Web – and to get useful results – is massively important as a job skill.

It pains me to see IT professionals punching in search queries like “how to install something using powershell.” That’s an inefficient query; the search engine is going to drop all but “something” (pretend that’s a product name), “install,” and “powershell” because everything else is a “noise word.” “Using” and “how” might be used to filter the results a bit, but that’s a pretty inefficient query. Word order is also important to search engines; I’d probably rephrase that query as “something install powershell” to put the emphasis on the product first, installation second, and powershell last. I might even search for something install “using powershell”, putting “using powershell” in quotes to force it as a phrase.

But learning from your results is important, too. For example, I recently got a fee t-shirt from some tequila brand during a promotion in a bar. I love this t-shirt. It’s very comfy and it fits great. Problem is, the tequila brand had their own label printed, so I can’t tell who makes the thing. But they did list the fabric as a cotton-polyester-rayon blend.

To the cloud!

I started with cotton-polyester-rayon blend t as my query. The first page of results was mostly some American Apparel retailers, with a bunch of Alibab.com hits. Not useful unless you want crates of shirts. But most of the results featured the phrase tri-blend, suggesting that’s a common industry term for this kind of shirt. Awesome. Off to Amazon, which will restrict my results to a more retail-friendly listing. I might not want to buy from Amazon, but by using their more-specialized search engine, I’ll get more specific results.

tri-blend men’s tee turned up several nice hits. I could add ringer, I found, to get shirts that have a color banded color and sleeve openings. Using Amazon’s category-narrowing for just “men’s shirts” helped trim the result event more – I was really looking for a manufacturer brand or model, so I could see what colors and shirt styles were available. I didn’t see any of the major commodity brands like Hanes, suggesting I’d be shopping more in the lifestyle brands like Hurley or Volcom or something. Okay. A quick search at Hanes.com for tri-blend confirmed they don’t offer anything.

That means Amazon might be my best bet, and Next Level seemed to have several types that looked like the fit I wanted. Back to Google for next level shirts, leading me to the manufacturer’s Web site, nextlevelapparel.com. I wanted to see if they sold to any major chains I might have locally (I’m twitchy about buying clothing online), and their Web site helped me find some choices. This all took about 5 minutes, not counting the time I spent typing this article ;).

Anyway… the point of this is that I went with a pretty decent query to start with, eliminated noise words on my own, and used word order to get the search engine to focus on what I wanted most. I learned a new term (“tri-blend”) that let me get much more specific, and move to a more-specific search engine (Amazon) to see what else was available. Narrowing down a few specific brands helped even more.

Search fu. You got any?

One thought on “The Importance of Google Fu

  1. I would add: it is important (when it is possible) to filter results by date.
    For example, if we are searching information about Windows 2012 R2, we can filter all results older than one year.
    Also, information older than “n” months could be outdated and misleading.

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