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Brainstorm: The next generation | Is Google stupid?

Has Google ever misunderstood you? Have you ever searched for something on Google and got totally wrong responses? Have you ever called Google stupid? If you don’t understand what I mean, try doing an image search for “pussy” on Google and see how many cats you get.

What a lot of people don’t understand is the fact that search engines, like Google, basically do a word search while factoring in the websites that get the most clicks in relation to the word or words being searched for.

I know that my fellow geeks out there will probably argue and talk about “fuzzy logic” and the complex algorithms used by Google in refining search results, but this article is not for them so I’m sticking to basics.

This said, and by way of example, if you search for the word “amazon” while thinking about the rainforest, it is very likely that the top hits you will get will refer to amazon.com rather than the river or forest, apparently because people are more interested in shopping than saving the rainforest so more people click on amazon.com and related results.

So, if you want to get better hits, you have to learn how to talk to Google and how to tell it what exactly you are looking for. You can even tell Google to just look through a particular website.

You can do this by using what are called Boolean Operators, named after George Boole, a mathematician in the mid-1800s. The more common operators are “AND” and “OR”, the minus (-) sign, and quotation marks. The operator “AND” is actually automatic, meaning that typing the words “davao occidental” is the same as “davao AND occidental” because Google will search for webpages with BOTH the words “davao” and “occidental” although, if there are very few hits, Google will also give hits with only one of those words and indicate the missing word.

“OR” gives a wider result than “AND” because using “OR” will result to hits on webpages with both, as well as either, of the words being searched for. Using the same example, searching for “davao OR occidental” will result to hits on pages with the word only “davao” or only “occidental” as well as pages with both of these words.

So, using searching for “amazon AND rainforest” will result to more hits with reference to the amazon rainforest than shopping sites but searching for “amazon OR rainforest” will likely result to more shopping related hits.

The minus (-) sign before a particular word will exclude the word from a search so while a search for “dogs AND terriers” will result mostly to hits with the words “dogs” and “terriers” searching for “dogs -terriers” will result to hits with the word “dog” but without the word “terrier”.

Quotation marks are very useful because it will tell Google to look only for the webpages with the exact phrase within the quotation marks so searching for “with or without you” will result to hits on webpages with this exact phrase, probably starting with pages about the U2 song.

Finally, one of my favorite operators when I want to limit my searches is the “site:” operator. This limits the search to a particular website. For example, when looking for decided cases on labor-only contracting, I can effectively limit my search by using quotation marks and limiting the search to the Supreme Court website only by using these search parameters “ “labor-only contracting” site:sc.judiciary.gov.ph”. This tells Google to look for all pages within the Supreme Court website with the exact phrase “labor-only contracting”.

Obviously, the last example also shows that you can mix and match operators to refine your searches. If, for example, you are a lawyer looking for cases on labor-only contracting but, since your client is a sole proprietorship, you do not want cases involving corporations, you can limit your search by typing ““labor-only contracting” -corporation site:sc.judiciary.gov.ph” so that the results will exclude the web pages within the Supreme Court website with the word “corporation”.

It takes some practice to get used to using these operators but, believe me, it will pay off in the time saved in sifting through the hits you get because, by limiting your searches, you will be getting less but more pertinent hits.

Well, if you are utterly lazy and cannot bother to memorize a few search operators, you can also just use Google’s Advanced Search page on https://www.google.com/advanced_search.

In either case, the results you get by searching for “cat AND cute -dog” will certainly be more pleasant than just searching for “pussy”.

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