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Searching the Internet: A Detective Story

"It was a cold, sleazy night, as sleazy and greasy as the pizza I was eating while I was waiting for another lead on my case. She was always a little slow on the followup and her package was just no longer as appealing as it had once been. I'd been looking to move up and move out on her, but, there was something about her, I don't know the sleek white case, the smooth, clean lines of her monitor, even though she just wasn't as responsive as she used to, I didnt' want to give the old girl up.

Then, there it was, on the screen, finally, over her old 56K dial-up, a lead, a hit, finally, I'd hit paydirt, I'd found the somolas, so now I could write my report up. But wait, this was about jewely, not the people of Somola. Sigh, she'd let me down again, so I was back at it, looking for another lead, without getting lost on the Internet highway"

Does this sound like your searches on the Internet? Do you feel like an actor in a movie that's being featured in Space Theater 3000? Well, I don't have all the answers for you, but I can give you some tips on how to find your answers just a bit easier when you're searching the internet.

Tip 1, Surveying the scene - Actually, searching the internet or for anything can be a lot like being a detective. Detectives are trying to find out what happened at a crime, while you may be trying to find out what happened in the War of the Roses, but the key is that you are both trying to find something, you know it's there, you just don't know the location.

So, in trying to find your information, you need to narrow the "location" down. Location in this sense means the words you are typing into the search engine to find what you want. If you are looking for roses and you type in petunias, you are likely going to end up in the wrong spots. But if you are looking for flowers and gardening, than either roses or petunia can be helpful in your search. The key to your key words is to find words that will narrow your search sufficiently without eliminating the results you are looking for. So, think about what you are looking for, are there similar words or similar concepts to what you are looking for, such as searching for bathroom fixtures. You may be looking for a water saving toilet, but when you type in 'water saving toilet' you get all kinds of toilet jokes but not a toilet store in sight. So, try bathroom fixtures, showers, sinks or even home remodeling to try and find stores that sell those items, because chances are they sell toilets too.

Tip 2, Pinpointing the location - Okay, you've thought up all kinds of keywords, you've searched for that toilet high and low and you still can't find a site that will help you out. The next step is to look for new clues on the sites you do come up with. For example in looking for that toilet, maybe you typed in bathroom fixtures. You found a lot of really fancy shops or shops that are in other cities, but nothing local that you can use. You tried typing in your city, but than you get a lot of shops that have nothing to do with toilets and well, you're probably really frustrated right now. So, take a deep breath and type in that bathroom fixtures search again.

Now, find a site in the list that is really, really close to what you are looking for, but for some reason, it isn't quite right or doesn't have the information you want, for example it's clear across the country from where you live. Take a look at the site and especially see if they have a Links section for their web site. There is something called reciprocal linking on the web that can be very helpful, especially if you are doing some kind of research. Reciprocal linking is where a web site is kind enough to link you to other sites which are similar to theirs. If you are looking at commercial sites, unfortunately, because of competition, you may not find a lot. But there is a plus for sites that include this idea, as the more sites that link to you, the better you can do in search engines. So, there are a lot of sites that will link you to their 'competitors' so to speak, because their competitor has a link back to them, making them a more relevant search engine.

These sites could very well be exactly what you are looking for. Or, those sites may have links that are what you are looking for, because they are providing focused links as opposed to the everything but the kitchen sink approach of the major search engines.

Or, when you are looking through those sites that came up for bathroom fixtures, look for something like Directory of Bathroom Fixtures or Bathroom Fixtures galore. These are usually sites that are also specialized and that's all they have are links to is some speciality item, like maybe even water saving toilets.

Tip 3, Hitting the Target - Well, you still haven't found the water saving toilet of your dreams, you've gone through some specialized sites, you've seen some great examples of bathrooms and other watersaving ideas, but you aren't quite ready to give up yet and just head down to your local hardware store, which probably would've been faster in the first place, but hey, it's a lot more fun to surf the web. So, the next step, depending on your persistence level, is to narrow even further by finding industry specific names for what you are looking for. What happens a lot when web sites get created is that someone gets really excited about their items and they are used to only talking to other people in their industry about this stuff, so they use specific words, like I might use RPG or XML or XPath or some stuff like that. (RPG - Role Playing Games, XML - eXtensible Markup Language, XPath - eXtensible Paths)

You would probably have no idea what I'm talking about and I bet you're eyelids are dropping down, yeah, you, over there I can see it, I know that glazed look. :-) Anyway, there are words that are probably not normally used anywhere else except in these speciality shops and now on the web and you can make use of the sites you've already found to figure out what new words you can use to look for your information.

For example, getting back to our water saving toilet, another term for that is 'low-flow toilet'. Now, I must admit, I didn't come up with that off the top of my head, I found it at this site, Bathroom Fixtures and Partitions and in scanning thru the page, I found those words. As soon as I saw that, I said to myself, I bet that's another term for water saving toilets. Now, armed with an industry specific phrase, I can now re-search for sites and see if I get better matches for what I'm looking for. And how do you recognize an industry specific word? Well, scan the page, look for a page that has definitions or sometimes just reading the context will jar the meaning up to where you go 'D'oh, that's it, I can try that word instead.'

Tip 4, Lather, Rinse, Repeat - Still no luck? Well, you should have some new sites to filter through and you can repeats tips 1-3 until you get really tired of looking at pages, or even better, you actually find what you have been looking for. These are the basic steps I take myself to look for items and I can generally find what I'm looking for. The other part is just practicing, so to speak, because you start to get a feel of what looks like a good hit for your search, which pages should be looked over, etc. It is a lot like detective work, in that you are probably going to be sifting through a lot of grungy stuff trying to find the 'gold' so to speak, but if you are persistent and the need is great enough, searching the internet can help you out when you are trying to find information.

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