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Zen Googling: The art of getting the information you want from the internet. (Part 1)

The internet is a truly wonderful place; it has transformed people otherwise disconnected by geography into a big global village. One of the biggest perks of the internet is that information has now been made available and free. But the challenge is how do you get the information you need? Luckily the existence of search engines (a program that searches for and identifies items in a database that correspond to keywords or characters specified by the user, used especially for finding particular sites on the World Wide Web.) like google, Bing and yahoo have made gathering information from the internet quite easy if you know how to use them. Did you get the last part, “if you know how to use them”? Your response might be, but of course I know how to use them. It’s as easy as firing up your web browser and typing www.google.com, entering the search parameters and clicking search. As easy as stealing candy from a baby, right? The answer is yes and no. Yes, that is the way to use search engines and No, because you have barely scratched the surface and there is still a lot on how to use search engines. So let’s get right into it, let me show you how to be a Zen Google master.
The first thing you need to know is what the heck is a query. If you have ever worked with databases, you’ll be quite familiar with the term. A query is simply a request for information from a database. It is basically made up of words, numbers or phrases that you hope will return the information you seek. 

The words “NGO bill” highlighted in yellow is an example of a query. You will also notice the "I’m feeling lucky" button marked red. Clicking on this button takes you to a webpage that google thinks is most relevant to your search query as opposed to displaying a list of pages when you click the Google search button.
Also note that the queries you enter and the order in which you enter them affect both the order and pages that appear in your search results. Hence to get the most relevant information, you will need to select your query terms carefully. Here are some very good suggestions to aid you in selecting the right query terms.

First, use words that are likely to appear on the pages you want. For example, if you are wondering how much Nigerian senators earn, your search query should be “Nigerian senator salary”, this is much more precise than entering your query in form of a question. Most people would likely write “How much do Nigerian senators earn”, but this query contains a lot of stop words which google will just ignore. Stop words are common words like how, do, the, on, where, I, a, etc as well as certain single digits and single letters. The reason google ignores them is that these words appear on so many pages and searching for them doesn’t help find relevant results. Also do not use words that you would normally associate with your topic but won’t expect to find on the designated pages. 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. For example, entering “Listing of entry level jobs in Abuja” would provide fewer and less accurate results than writing “entry level jobs Abuja”, likewise it would be better to write “Garki hospital heart surgery” than “documentation of Garki hospital heart surgery”. If you have two terms or phrases and you are not sure which of the two to use in your query, then you can use an online tool called Google Fight. This will show you which of the two terms is more prevalent on the web.

Secondly, be very specific by using more query terms to narrow your results. You can achieve this by using more precise and less ambiguous words in your queries. For example, let’s say you were looking for how to download the movie matrix. Just entering “matrix” would return so many results that have nothing to do with the movie, as the word matrix can mean so many things. A more precise query would be “matrix movie download”, likewise “Donald trump musician” would return more accurate results for a musician named Donald trump than just typing “Donald Trump”.

Finally, here are a few things to note. Google returns only pages that match all your search terms. A search for “small business loans Nigeria” finds pages containing the words “small”, “business”, “loans” and “Nigeria”. But implicit in this is what google calls stemming, which is a technique to search on the stem or root of a word that can have multiple endings. Hence google will also find pages that contain words that are similar to some or all of your search terms e.g “businesses”, “Nigerian”, “Nigerians”. Also google considers how close the words in your queries are in the pages it returns and gives higher priority to pages that have the terms in the same order as your query.
So far we have laid the ground rules for making google work for you, next we’ll dive deeper into crafting super cool queries to get that information you want. Follow us on our social handles, Twitter and Facebook to get notification on latest blog posts.

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