Nobody "surfs" the Web anymore. Some 80 percent of all online sessions now begin with a search. Google proves the point by making over a billion dollars every quarter on search ads. Nobody ever made than kind of money selling browsers.
But plain old Web searching doesn't do the trick anymore. Most Web searches either yield too much random data, or they don't give you what you need when you need it.
If you're an efficient searcher, you know to hit the Web running. Here are some tricks that will help you get what you want when you want it—sometimes before you ask for it.
Google Alerts you can tell Google to send you a daily, weekly, or up-to-the-minute e-mail that >sums everything up.
2. Alert Yahoo, too. Yahoo alerts don't offer Google's level of detail, but the menu-oriented interface gives novices a clear idea of what options are available in the alerts that they create. On the other hand, Yahoo makes you sign in before you can create an alert, a task that could easily sidetrack distractable users.
3. Know an operator or two. You can create tightly defined searches for your alerts if you use search operators when defining your alert. For example, if you want to search only PCMag.com, append the operator site:pcmag.com to your search query. If you really want to geek out on all the search possibilities, peruse Google's and Yahoo's lists of search modifiers.
Microsoft Live Search macros are easy to overlook. Live Search macros let you build and save frequent searches—for example, if you're new to the Linux OS distribution Ubuntu and search the forums a lot, you can build a search (or use the already available macro) that includes those sites. When you're ready to search, just plug in what you're looking for and the search will automatically be limited to the sites you specified.
The macros are buried in the More menu at the right end of the main Live Search screen, and they can be really helpful. Go to the bottom of the More menu and choose See All. You'll see two headings that refer to Macros: Edit Macros and Find Macros. The Find Macros menu lets you browse macros other people have created, while Edit Macros is your choice for creating menus yourself.
5. Take a shortcut. Firefox launches a search when you right-click selected text and choose Search in Google from the shortcut menu. See "Firefox 3: 8 Things You Didn't Know You Could Do" to learn how to get zippier performance from Firefox).
6. Get personal. Vanity surfing isn't just an exercise in ego building. If you have a reputation to protect for any reason, you need to know what people can find out about you. Consider Google's Profiles service, which allows you to set up a personal page in which you describe yourself to the world of Google searchers (you know, everybody) on a page that gets priority in Google search results. Google profiles don't erase any nasty comments others may have made about you on the Web, but they do give you equal time to make your case.
When you're looking for personal information about other people, Web searches are often too general, but if you go to www.pipl.com, you can find a slightly scary level of detailed personal information about yourself or anyone else. The information you find on Pipl is frequently much more detailed than what you'll get from Google. Even if you don't like bad news, it's usually better if you find the dirt on yourself before someone else does.
7. Troll Twitter for timely tips. Despite its reputation for disseminating drivel, Twitter is probably your best source for fresh, time-sensitive information, and an essential resource for ensuring that you're dealing with current information. It also delivers information of a different nature—search engines tell you what a machine thinks you're looking for, but a Twitter search tells you what other people are choosing to say about that topic right now. The mainstream search engines also conflate today's information with stuff that's been hanging around for years, while Twitter searches skew toward recent relevance. Twitter's plain old search box can deliver a mother lode of information about what's on the world's collective unconscious right this minute, as can the search tools in the most popular third-party services like Twitscoop and Twitterfall. You can also ferret out current trends through the search tools built into many of the free, downloadable helper applications for Twitter, including Tweetdeck, Seesmic Desktop, and AlertThingy.
8. Tailor responses. The Internet makes more wrong information available to more people than ever before. Google now invites you to promote items from your search results (that is, move them up in the search ranking), or remove them altogether, by clicking the gray icons next to each returned link. As you repeat this action in different searches, Google's software learns to deliver results that are more reliable for you—more in line with what you tend to look for. So, for example, you might get recipes when you search on "chicken," while Farmer Pete gets items about the care and feeding of laying hens. In addition, Google now tries to deliver "personalized" results by taking into account what you've clicked on in the past, so your own past search habits could affect the results you get as well.
If you can't have Web search results injected directly into your brain, that's only because Google's engineers haven't yet figured out how to push advertising up there, too. The minute they do, you'll know.