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Q: Improving an interactive tutorial on searching with Google ( Answered,   0 Comments )
Subject: Improving an interactive tutorial on searching with Google
Category: Computers > Internet
Asked by: nancyb-ga
List Price: $200.00
Posted: 16 Jan 2005 00:09 PST
Expires: 15 Feb 2005 00:09 PST
Question ID: 457973
As you may know, I've written Google Guide, a free online tutorial on
searching with Google, which you can find on the web at  Please review Google Guide, and let me know ways
in which I can improve its content, including but not limited to
search tips, clearer explanations, inaccuracies, typos, omissions,
better or additional exercises, and solutions to the exercises.
Subject: Re: Improving an interactive tutorial on searching with Google
Answered By: jbf777-ga on 17 Jan 2005 11:15 PST
Hello Nancyb -

Thank you for your question.  If you need any clarification, please
don't hesitate to ask.

Items I have edited are placed in quotes and correlate to one of the
paragraphs on the page referenced.  Additional (new) copy that I think
might be appropriate I have also placed in quotes.  Other comments
won't have quotes.  Feel free to incorporate any rewrites as you see

General notes:

The top index has a lot of words and clickable links.  To make it a
little clearer, you might replace the sublinks underneath each major
heading with a  "pull down" or other menu structure.  That may be
cleaner, allowing the user to see each subtopic only when he clicks on
the appropriate main topic.  I would also change the color or
appearance of the main topics so they look more "clickable."   If you
leave the current format, I would make a color change to a sublink
when it's selected.

The text "Ads by Google" is cut off on my copy of Internet Explorer for Mac.

"Search Google Guide" doesn't appear to be any different than the
"WWW" option at the bottom of your pages.

To make the entire site more readable, I would indent all information
under each bold headline, including your examples.

You mention the following in

"For simplicity sake, this tutorial uses square brackets to denote
Google's search box. For example, to search for a cheap hotel in
Mykonos, I'll put the words "cheap," "hotel," and "Mykonos" in square
brackets, [ cheap hotel Mykonos ], to indicate you should type those
three words in Google's search box. You should not type the brackets,
although Google will ignore them if you do type them."

But you don't mention it in a prior page, where it might be as/more fitting:


1. Front page

It is not immediately apparent how to actually "get" to the Guide.  I
would suggest making the "Google Guide" logo clickable.  You might
want to entertain making the daily tip a bit smaller as well.

2. Part 1

"Google is easy to use, but (and?) the more you know about how it
works -- its features, its capabilities, and how it displays results
-- the better it can serve your needs."

3. Enterting a Query
"What is a query?  A query is the substance of a search.  It consists
of one or more words, numbers, or phrases that you feel will return
the best search results -- links to web pages that are most relevant
to you."

"Now press the ENTER key or click on the "Google Search" button to
view your search results (appearing below your search), which are
links to pages on the web best matching your query.  Each result will
contain relevant snippets (excerpts) of each page, showing one or more
of your search terms in bold.  Here's an example:"

"The above is actually a "live" example: click on "Google Search" and
it will perform a search using the terms "california" and "driving."  
In this example and in others like it throughout this tutorial, you
can edit what's in the search box and run different searches."

"Results are displayed in descending order according to relevance;
that is, Web pages that Google considers to be most relevant to your
query are shown first.  To the right of Google's search results appear
sponsored links.  These are paid advertisements from companies or
individuals, and will vary according to your query."

"Each search result will contain the title of the web page (which is
the actual web link).  Any of your query words that appear in the
title will be in boldface.  To visit one of the web links listed in
your search results, simply click on the title.  (Note: when you
position your mouse pointer on the title, the URL for the web page
will appear in your browser's status bar, at the bottom of many
browsers.)  In our example, clicking on the link "California Driving
-- A Survival Guide", will take you to the corresponding California
Driving Guide web page."

"Often you will see links to "news results" displayed first.  These
are links to news articles containing your search terms.  In addition,
your results for this example may be different from what you see here,
since Google is constantly searching the Web for new pages and
adjusting its results algorithms."

4. Going Directly to the First Result

"The "I'm Feeling Lucky" button, located next to the "Google Search"
button on Google's home page, will take you directly to the first
result for your query. In other words, instead of showing you a list
of pages, Google will send you immediately to a web page that it
considers to be most relevant to your query. For example, if you enter
the query [ california driving ] (without the square brackets) and
click the I'm Feeling Lucky button, Google will send you to the web
site of a California Driving Guide by Hamish Reid."

"The above is actually a "live" example: click on "I'm Feeling Lucky"
and it will perform a search using the terms "california" and
"driving."   In this example and in others like it throughout this
tutorial, you can edit what's in the search box and run different

"I'm Feeling Lucky may save you time when you're confident the page
you want is the best fit for your query -- usually the case when
you're seeking very popular pages.  For example, it's a safe bet that
an I'm Feeling Lucky search for "Paul McCartney" will send you to, his home page."

"Note: I'm Feeling Lucky doesn't consider the various sponsored links
on the first results page, which are paid advertisements, when
deciding where to take you. In other words, the I'm Feeling Lucky
button will send you to what Google considers the most relevant result
that is not a paid advertisement."

"You can try the following exercises to gain experience entering a
query.  For hints and answers to selected problems, see the Solutions
page in the Appendix."

The "weapons of mass destruction" parody error page has been removed,
so is no longer accessible per the tutorial.

5. Selecting Search Terms

"The choice and placement of the search terms you use will affect the
search results and the order in which they're displayed.  The examples
below will show how different ways of specifying various searches
produce different results."

"For simplicity sake, this tutorial uses square brackets to denote the
terms to use in a search.   For example, a search for a cheap hotel in
Mykanos using the words "cheap," "hotel," and "Mykonos" would look
like this: [ cheap hotel Mykonos ].  You would type these three words
in Google's search box.  (You should not type the brackets, although
Google will ignore them if you do.)

"Furthermore, in the examples that follow, each set of search terms is
linked to actual, live Google search results.  So clicking on [ cheap
Mykonos hotel ] returns the Google results page for a search on these

This page could use some section headlines.

"Use words that are most relevant to your search topic.  For example:"


Since the use of quotation marks is so integral to basic searching, I
would insert a section here on that.  Example: "Words that you would
like to have appear directly next to each other should be surrounded
by quotation marks.  This will make your search more precise, since
pages could contain the words "white" and "cat" but not necessarily
"white cat", if that's what you're searching on.  Examples:"

[ "new zealand" ]
[ "bud williams" ]
[ "when johnny comes marching home" lyrics ]

"Avoid using a question as a query."  This can be in bold like the one
above, followed by a paragraph break.

"The query, [ where do I apply for a passport in New Zealand ], won't
necessarily find pages answering your question.  Better queries might
be [ passport apply "New Zealand" ], [ "applying for a passport in New
Zealand" ] or [ "how to" "apply for a passport in New Zealand"]. 
Notice the placement of quotation marks.

"When Google detects very common words, such as where, do, I, for, and
a, known as stop words, it ignores them unless you tell it otherwise. 
If you're seeking pages that include a stop word, see the section
Crafting Your Query."

"Avoid using words that you might associate with your topic, but you
wouldn't expect to find on specific web pages." (make bold, paragraph
break) For example, queries that include "articles about," "discussion
of," "documentation on," and "pages about" are likely to return fewer
results since information on the web is rarely labeled with such
terms."  (you might want to review some of these, as there may be
times for including phrases such as "articles about" or "articles on")

Note: For a beginner, this might be OK:
USE [ jobs product marketing Sunnyvale ] 
NOT [ listings of product marketing jobs in Sunnyvale ] 

However, [ listings Sunnyvale "product marketing jobs" ] might be a
productive search.

"Suppose you want to know how old someone is, such as Nelson Mandela
(the former President of South Africa).  Pages with "birthday" and
"age" might be more than a year old.  Searching for pages that include
"Nelson Mandela" and "born" are likely to include either "Nelson
Mandela born" or "Nelson Mandela was born" followed by his birth date.
 You can figure out his age from knowing when he was born:"

USE [ Nelson Mandela born ] or [ "nelson mandela was born"]
NOT [ Nelson Mandela birthday ] nor [ Nelson Mandela age ] 

To stay consistent with your section on Crafting Your Query, you'll
want to put "Nelson Mandela" in quotes.

The section on "Google Smackdown" might be best placed elsewhere.

"Does your query have enough specific information for Google to
determine unambiguously what you're seeking? If your query is too
vague, it's unlikely to return relevant results. Consider, for
example, the query [ java ]. What do you suppose Google includes in
the first page of results? An island in Indonesia? A beverage
consisting of an infusion of ground coffee beans? A computer
network-oriented platform-independent programming language developed
by Sun Microsystems?  Use another word or words next to java to better
"home in" on relevant pages:"

"When you search for [ Tom Watson ], on the first page of results you
get references to a member of Parliament, the golfer, the IBM
executive, and a Populist Party candidate for President in 1900 and
1904. If you're searching for something that could return many
different types of results, you should add a term that distinguishes
among them. This way you'll get only results about the specific Tom
Watson you're interested in.

I'd put the name "Tom Watson" in quotes (significant difference in
results, and more specific).

I'd change the heading on spelling to something like: "Google will
check your spelling for you" so as to not encourage people to overlook
their spelling (sometimes Google doesn't check at all, and things like
homonyms get by)

"Note: Before clicking on Google's suggested spelling, be sure it's
what you're looking for."  Remove: "Spelling checker, like people,
make mistakes."

Don't think this belongs; if they know enough to get to this guide,
they probably know the following: "Note: Even if you use the search
tips described in Google Guide, you won't be able to access
authoritative information that's available offline, e.g., old
reference books, or is stored in specialized databases. For such
information is not currently searchable with Google."

6. Interpreting Queries

Might want to change the name of this to "How Google Interprets Your
Query" or "Google's Intrepretation of Your Query".  As presently
written, this section title might look like a topic on how you
interpret your own query.

"By default, Google reads each word of your query with "AND" in
between -- meaning, a search for [ compact fold-up bicycle ] finds
pages containing the words "compact" and "fold-up" and "bicycle." 
This is called an "implicit AND."  If you want pages containing any
(instead of all) of your search terms, use the OR operator, which is
described in the next section Crafting Your Query."

Best placed elsewhere (?): 
  "Note: Google sometimes returns pages that don't contain your query terms, as  
   you can see in the example in the Cached Pages section in Part II. Google  
   returns pages in which your query terms are included in the link text 
   (interpreted as a description) to another page or place on the page, more  
   commonly referred to as the anchor text of a link pointing to the page." 

"By default, Google returns pages that match your search terms exactly." 

Might want to mention the tilde operator here as a sidenote, and add
"By default" above, since you can override this with the tilde

"Note: The words "OR" and "AND" have special meanings if entered in
uppercase letters.  See the section on <Using Search Operators> for
more information." (should make Using Search Operators linkable)

"Google returns pages that match variants of your search terms." 
Perhaps this should say "grammatical variants" since "variants alone"
could be construed as "semantic variants", and this is not the case
without the tilde operator.  Same applies to Exercise 4's solution.

"If you want pages containing either "mañana" or "manana", use the OR
operator, which is described in the section Crafting Your Query." 
(should make Crafting Your Query linkable here, as well as all "see
this section" references)

"If you aren't sure whether a word is hyphenated, search for it with a
hyphen to include all possibilities."

Exercises section: need a paragraph break between 2 and 3.  Exercise
3's layout is a little confusing.

7. Crafting Your Query by using Special Characters
"To search for a phrase, a proper name, or a set of words in a
specific order, enclose the phrase in quotation marks."

"A query with terms in quotes finds pages containing the exact quoted
phrase. For example, [ "Larry Page" ] finds pages containing exactly
the phrase "Larry Page."  This query would find any pages with the
phrase "Larry Page".   In contrast, the query [ Larry Page ], without
quotes, would find pages containing any incidences of the word Larry
and Page, irrespective of their position relative to each other --
e.g., "Larry Page," "Larry has a home page," or "Congressional page
Larry Smith."

This is a small note, but I removed the first instances of your
examples in the paragraph above, because it is possible that a search
for "Larry Page" MIGHT return a page with "Larry has a home page".

"Google doesn't perform automatic stemming on phrases, i.e., searching
for pages that match (grammatical?) variants of any of your search
terms, which I described in the previous section Interpret Your Query
<- (can be made linkable). For example, if you want to see pages that
mention only one favorite book rather than lists of favorite books,
enclose your search terms in quotes."

"A teacher may use this functionality to detect plagiarism in their
student's work.  By searching on a few unique and specific phrases
enclosed in quotes, Google will return results that might show
possible sources for where the work was copied."

"You may include more than one quoted string in a query.  Due to the
"implicit AND," all quoted query phrases must appear on a page for it
to be included in the search results, unless separated by the OR
operator (see ...)"

"Note: You'll learn how to find a page by specifying its title in the
section Using Search Operators." Relevant?

"Note: you should not insert a space between the + and the word; e.g.,
[ +The Beatles ], not [ + The Beatles ]."

"The + operator is typically used in front of stop words that Google
would otherwise ignore, although it can be used on any term; it's also
used to have Google find only those pages that match the search
term(s) exactly (by disabling automatic stemming (make linkable) --
searching for pages that match grammatical variants of your search
term(s)).  For example, if you want to see only pages mentioning one
favorite book rather than lists of favorite books, precede the word
"book" by a + sign:

[ favorite +book ] 

Paragraph and example not necessary due to consolidation above:
"Disable automatic stemming, i.e., searching for pages that match
variants of your search term(s), by preceding each term that you want
to be matched exactly with the + operator."

"Want to learn about Star Wars I?   "I" is a stop word and is not
included in a search unless you precede it with a + sign."

"To find pages without a particular term, put a - sign immediately in
front of the word in the query. The - sign indicates that you want to
exclude pages that contain a specific term. Do not put a space between
the - and the word,
e.g. [ dolphins -football ] not [ dolphins  - football ]  (put
examples on their own lines? -- found elsewhere as well)

"The tilde (~) operator searches for the word immediately following it
and all of the word's synonyms and semantic variations.  It also
searches for the term with alternative endings (how does this work in
light of autostemming?) The tilde operator works best when applied to
general terms and terms with many synonyms. As with the + and -
operators, put the ~ (tilde) next to the word, with no spaces between
the ~ and its associated word; e.g., [ ~lightweight laptop ] not [ ~
lightweight laptop ]. (put examples on their own lines? -- found
elsewhere as well)"

Relevant? (if so, I would say "mathematics")
"Why did Google use tilde? In mathematics, the "~" symbol means
"approximately". The tilde tells Google to search for pages that
approximately match the term that follows."

"The OR operator, which you may abbreviate with | (vertical bar),
applies to the search term or phrase adjacent to it.  The first
example below will find pages that include either "Tahiti" or "Hawaii"
or both terms.  (Last sentence not necessary?)"

"Note: If you write OR with a lowercase "o" or a lowercase "r," Google
will disregard the word."

"Specify that results contain numbers in a range by specifying two
numbers, separated by two periods, with no spaces." --rewrite--> "The
"Numrange" option(?) allows you to search for pages containing numbers
in a given range."

"For example, you can specify a search for web pages mentioning prices
between $250 to $1000 by using the number range specification
$250..$1000." ($250 to $1000 is in green but not clickable)

[ recumbant bicycle $250..$1000 ]  <- typo: change to "recumbent"

Recumbent is also spelled wrong in the chart.

"Google treats the * as a placeholder for a word. Each * represents
just one word.  For example, [ "Google * my life" ] tells Google to
find pages containing a phrase that starts with "Google" followed by a
word, followed by "my life." Phrases that fit the bill include:
"Google changed my life," "Google runs my life," and "Google is my

"Proximity searching can be useful when you want to find pages that
include someone's name in any of the following orders:
first/middle/last, last/first/ middle, first/last, last/first. 
Searching for "Francis" adjacent or separated one word from "Coppola,"
requires four queries:

+term example in chart might need clarification: i.e., not "with
term," but "must include term"

Paragraph break inconsistences on the exercises section.

Exercise 14 solution needs to be clarified; don't believe the asterisk
at the end will make a significant difference (same exact number of
search result pages).  Exercise 15:  Might want to clarify that Google
seems to be including "the" in this particular query, even though it
is a stop word in other queries.

8. Sharpening Your Query by using Google's Advanced Search Form
"Next I describe each line in the form." -> "The following is a
description of each line in the form."

"If you always want only results in a certain language or set of
languages, you can change your search language in your Google
preferences. See the section Customizing Your Results by Using
Preferences to learn how to change your Google preferences to modify
the way your search results appear."

"Date: restrict your results to pages that have been updated (created
or modified), crawled, and added to Google's index (indexed) in the
past three, six, or twelve months. Popular pages that are updated
often are crawled and indexed frequently. Note: Any change in the page
counts as an update, even a spelling correction." <- you may consider
floating rectangles as opposed to hard links for words needing a
defintion; these would work by floating the mouse of the word (such as
"crawled") -- this would preclude the user from having to click on a
link (in effect, leaving the page), to find a quick definition.

"Find pages on Google whose URL contains FAQ, an abbreviation for
either Frequently Asked Questions or Frequently Answered Questions. In
the search below I look for pages containing both Google and FAQ in
the URL."

"Domain: search only a specific website (e.g., or domain
(e.g., .org) or exclude that site or domain completely from your
search. The section Anatomy of a Web Address at the end of the
Sharpening Your Query (make clickable) section explains how to figure
out the website or domain for a web page if you know its address."

"<In an effort to return as many useful results as possible>
SafeSearch doesn't currently filter out hate speech, anarchy, criminal
activity, crude and tasteless material, illegal weapons, bomb making,
etc. <content that other filtering systems attempt to exclude>."

The way this is written sounds condoning of the listed behaviors.  You
might want to consider making the above statement neutral by
eliminating the  <statements> above.

"To browse bicycles that can be folded up quickly and compactly, fill
in the Products search box and then click on the associated Search

Note: Michael Fagan developed Google Ultimate Interface when he was a teenager. is a dead link.
Soople,, is a dead link.

Note additional references in Exercises.

"If you already know how to read a web address or URL (pronounced
U.R.L. and stands for Universal Resource Locator), skip this section."

Paragraph break inconsistencies in the exercises.

9. Understanding Search Results (top links have just "Understanding Results")
"Google makes it easy to find whatever you're seeking -- whether it's
a web page, a news article, a definition, something to buy, or text in
a book.  By understanding what appears on a results page, you'll be
better able to determine if a page includes the information you're
seeking or contains a link to it."

"After you enter a query, Google returns a results list ordered by
what it considers the items' relevance to your query, listing the best
matches first. SponSored links sometimes appear above or to the right
of the search results."

"In this segment, you'll learn:"

10. How Google Works

"(If you aren't interested in learning how Google creates the index
and the database of documents that it accesses when processing a
query, skip this description.) The following overview on how Google
creates its index is adapted from Chris Sherman and Gary Price's
wonderful description of How Search Engines Work in Chapter 2 of The
Invisible Web (CyberAge Books, 2001)."  <- I would remove the first
sentence, since it's understood that people can skip around in your
guide.  I would let them decide if they don't want to read further
without giving them the idea that it's something they might not want
to read.

"Unfortunately, spammers (defined?) figured out how to create
automated bots that bombarded the Add URL form with millions of URLs
pointing to commercial propaganda. Google rejects any URL submitted
through its Add URL form that it suspects to be of malicious intent by
employing various tactics.  These include: hidden text or links on a
page, stuffing a page with irrelevant words, cloaking (AKA bait and
switch), using sneaky redirects, creating doorways, domains, or
sub-domains with substantially similar content, sending automated
queries to Google, and linking to "bad neighbors.""
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