eGuide: Searching the internet using search engines

Last updated: November 2018

Identifying the right search engine

The major search engines

Which type of engine you decide to use will depend on what you want to use it for. Here is a list of the most common English language search engines:

  • Google -search for images, videos, maps, news stories, shopping, etc. Copes with spelling mistakes and translates non-English language pages.
  • Bing – Microsoft’s own search engine. Default engine in Internet Explorer.
  • Yahoo – Yahoo results are from Bing with added features from Yahoo.
  • DuckDuckGo – emphasises privacy. It doesn’t track or profile users, which means that everyone carrying out the same search will see the same results.

Find out more at


More on Google

There is more to Google than just the search box on the homepage:

  • Google Scholar – searches across scholarly literature such as articles and theses. To limit the search to resources available for Cambridge students, go to settings to set Cambridge as your preferred library. For instructions see Anglia Ruskin’s guide but select the University of Cambridge.
  • Google Books – a database of books digitised by Google. Some results will show the full-text, other results will show a proportion of the text e.g. content pages.
  • Google Alerts – – stay up to date, create alerts on specific topics.
  • My Activity – stores all the searches you have carried out (with a Google Account). You can opt out.

Advantages: find previous search terms and results so you won’t lose time repeating a search.

Disadvantages: lack of privacy and anonymity and skewed results e.g. search results and adverts will reflect your perceived interests and may not show the most useful results.

Group work with Google – Google has a number of tools that will be useful for group work and managing your own workload. Short explanatory videos about Google’s Drive, Forms, Calendar and Sites functions can be found on Learn Hacks: Collaboration Hacks

Searching tricks

Combining words in a search

  • + (AND) – use to specify words which must be included e.g. American + President
  • | (OR) – use to broaden a search and find more sites, e.g. American | President
  • – (NOT) – use with care to eliminate unwanted search words, e.g. American – President
  • Use quotation marks to search for a precise phrase, e.g. “American President”

Searching for words with similar endings – most search engines allow you to type the first part of the word and then use a character, e.g. * or ] or? (it varies from one search engine to another) to replace the subsequent letters. So, to find American, Americas, Americans, you might type America*

Refining your search

  • Site: use to find information within a specific site e.g. student bursaries You can also exclude a specific site or domain e.g. –
  • Related: use to find similar sites to ones you already use
  • Filetype: use to find a specific document type e.g. Barbara Bodichon filetype:pdf
  • Number…Number – search within a specific numerical range e.g. women authors 1800…1900
  • Intitle:/intext:/inurl: search for a word within the title, text or URL e.g. intitle:Girton

Searching for images

Google Images – quick and easy way to search for images. Upload and search for a specific image by clicking on the camera icon.
Librestock – searches over 40 different free stock photo websites to find images that are free to use (Creative Commons Zero license).
Pixabay – free to use images (Librestock searches this site)

Searching social media

Social searcher – searches multiple social networks and provides analytic data.  You can set up email alerts to stay up to date. It also has a Google Social Media search tool, which searches social media via Google. Each site (e.g. Twitter and Facebook) is presented in a separate, easy to read the column.
Social mention – real-time social media search. Highlights whether comments are positive/negative, identifies top users, terms and hashtags.
Storify – – to create or browse social media stories/timelines.

Evaluating search engines

Search engines vary in their quality control over sites listed. Many search engines “guarantee” higher rankings in return for payment. Results labelled as advertisements often appear at the top.
You will need to look critically at the sites you find. Aspects to look out for when evaluating sites:

  • Authorship – who is responsible for the site? An individual or an institution or organization?
  • Intended audience – Academics? Children? Anyone? Unclear?
  • Accuracy – do all the links work? Are there any mistakes?
  • Last modified – is the site updated regularly? Look for a date at the bottom of the page.
  • Objectivity – how objectively has the author presented the information?

Unsuccessful search?

Remember, search engines don’t index everything that’s out there – sometimes known as the “invisible web” or the “dark web”.  This can include sites that are password-protected, including Moodle. Content may also have expired or been removed. Some useful archive resources are:

Internet web archive (Wayback Machine) – useful for finding information that appeared on websites previously, and for links that no longer work. Search using a URL.

UK National Archives – for government websites.

UK Web Archive – archive of UK websites.

Help within College

Library staff can help with beginning your search. During Full Term, drop-in sessions are regularly scheduled for Wednesday afternoons (14.30-16.30). You can also book an appointment with Library staff or ask a question via  Alternatively, just ask at the issue desk.

Additional Resources


Knowing where to look: your search toolkit

My Learning Essentials: Online Resources


Help With Electronic Resources

Jenny Blackhurst
t: +44 (0) 1223 338970