Fine-tune Yahoo Web search queries
|Using Yahoo Web Search is deceptively simple. You can type in any word or phrase and find matches in documents across the Web. The trade-off for this simplicity is having to look through hundreds, thousands, or millions of results to find those that are actually useful to you. By understanding how Yahoo expects queries to be phrased, you can limit the results to include only those documents most relevant to you--saving you the time of looking through extraneous results.
To start building sophisticated queries, you need to know these search basics:
By default, Yahoo searches for all of the words you type into a search form. If you type grammar into the search form, Yahoo will return documents that contain the word grammar. A search for grammar school will return documents that contain both words somewhere within the document, but not necessarily together.
- Complete phrase
To search for words in a specific order, enclose the words in quotation marks. A search for "grammar school" will return documents that contain the complete phrase grammar school. You can combine keyword and phrase searches. To find documents that contain the phrase grammar school and also have the word Oregon somewhere in the document, you could search for "grammar school" Oregon.
- OR keyword
You can change the default behavior of keyword searches by using the capitalized keyword OR between words. A search for grammar OR primary will return documents that contain either grammar or primary, but not necessarily both words.
- Exclude words or phrases
To find documents without a certain word, you can use the minus sign (-) along with the word you want to exclude. If a search for Oregon school returns too many pages for schools in the city of Portland, you could type Oregon school -Portland to exclude any pages with the word Portland from the results.
Search meta words
Use Yahoo to search within a specific domain. Here, we searched for mentions of the planet Mars on NASA's Web site.
In addition to the basic operators, there are keywords that Yahoo calls "search meta words" that you can use to refine your search:
Use this keyword to limit search results to a single Web site. You can search for the word Mars across NASA sites by typing mars site:nasa.gov. All of the results will be from sites hosted at the nasa.gov domain. You also use this keyword to limit results to a single top-level domain, such as .org, .com, or .edu. To find mentions of the word Mars across academic sites, type mars site:.edu.
This keyword limits results to a specific host at a site. For example, NASA's Mars Exploration Program has a Web site at http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov. If you want to search this specific section of the nasa.gov domain for the word rover, you could type rover hostname:mars.jpl.nasa.gov.
You can use this keyword to find sites that link to a specific URL. This keyword works well if you want to judge the popularity of a specific page by finding the number of other sites linking to a particular page. You'll need to include the full URL, so to find pages that link to the Amazon Hacks page at the O'Reilly Hacks site, type link:http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/amazonhks/.
Instead of a specific page, this keyword looks for any links to a specific domain. If you're interested in pages that link to http://www.cnet.com, type linkdomain:cnet.com.
This keyword lets you look up a single page at Yahoo by specifying the URL. You can look up the O'Reilly Hacks home page by typing url:http://hacks.oreilly.com. You could use this keyword to see how pages at a site are displayed in Yahoo's Web, Images, and Video Search results.
Use this keyword to find sites that have a specific word within the URL. To find all sites that have the word Mars in the URL, type inurl:mars.
Like inurl:, this keyword returns documents that have a specific word in the document title. To find documents with Mars in the title, use intitle:mars. You can also use the basic search operators in combination with the search meta words to refine your search. Say you'd like to search for the word Mars across documents, but you don't want pages from any nasa.gov site; type mars -site:nasa.gov. Because Yahoo supports very long queries, you could specify a whole list of sites that you don't want information from: mars -site:nasa.gov -site:mars.com -site:space.com. But to search those sites exclusively, take away the minus symbol, group the site list together with parentheses, and use the OR keyword like this: mars (site:nasa.gov OR site:mars.com OR site:space.com). Again, note that the use of the OR keyword requires the use of parentheses. Some of these query combinations can also be accomplished with the form at Yahoo advanced search.
Look up hotels, movie show times, and weather for specific cities in one click by adding short keywords to searches.
Type define word, and Yahoo will provide a brief dictionary definition for the word and a link to the full dictionary entry for that word at Yahoo Reference.
- Encyclopedia entries
Search for word facts, and Yahoo will display an excerpt of the Wikipedia entry for that word and a link to the full entry.
- Airport information
Yahoo provides quick links to maps, flight information, and local weather if you type airport code airport. For example, the shortcut for San Francisco International Airport is SFO airport.
Type city hotels to get a quick list of hotels in that city, along with the Yahoo Local rating, the base rate, and a link to check availability. You can also look for a specific hotel chain by typing city chain--for example, San Francisco Ramada.
- Stock quotes
Type quote stock symbol to get the current trading price for a stock (delayed 15 minutes). You can keep tabs on Yahoo by typing quote yahoo.
- Sports scores
Find out how your favorite pro team is doing by typing team mascot scores. You'll get a quick look at recent games, and sometimes you can see who they're playing in the next game. The query 49ers scores will give you information about the San Francisco 49ers football team.
- Movie showtimes
To see when movies are playing in your area, type showtimes zip code, and you'll get links to local theater showtimes and a few showtimes for current movies.
- Zip codes
You can find all of the zip codes for a city by typing zip code city.
- Area codes
If you're not sure where someone is calling from, try typing the three-digit area code into Yahoo Search. Yahoo will return a list of cities in that area code.
For a quick look at the current weather for any city, type city weather. Yahoo will give you the current conditions and the expected high and low temperatures.
Once you learn how to speak the Yahoo Search shortcut language, you'll save time answering some basic questions.
Personalize, track, and share the Web
The Yahoo My Web 2 beta service gives you a powerful set of tools to collect Web pages, annotate them, and share them with others. In My Web, you can save links to your favorite Web sites (much like bookmarks) and organize them in custom folders. Yahoo's purchase
of the social bookmark-sharing service del.icio.us
indicates the company's continued interest in such features. But for now, there are several features available at My Web beyond collecting links.
- Site notes
You can add notes to any saved Web site in My Web. You can use these notes to provide a site description, personal comments about the site, or any other bits of text.
- Copies of Web pages
Instead of saving just a link to a Web site, My Web saves a copy of a page as it looked when you added it to My Web. So even if a Web page changes between when you added the site to My Web and when you want to reference it later, you can be sure you'll see the original.
- Search History
If you enable Search History, Yahoo will remember which sites you click in any Yahoo search results and save them to your My Web History folder. If you have trouble remembering what search term you used to find a particular site, this might be a useful feature for you. But if you'd prefer to keep your searches more private, make sure that in the My Web home page, Off is highlighted in red next to Search History.
- Blocked sites
Some sites that show up in search results simply aren't relevant and won't be relevant to any search you make. Clicking Block tells Yahoo not to show that particular site in your future search results. Blocked sites show up in your My Web Blocked folder, so you can periodically review the sites you've blocked.
- Shared folders
By default, folders with links and copied pages are private, but you can also choose to share any particular folder with the world. My Web also makes RSS feeds available for shared folders so that others can subscribe to them and keep up with your changes.
To get started with My Web, you just need a free Yahoo ID. Browse to http://myweb2.search.yahoo.com/
and log in with your Yahoo ID. As you activate My Web, you'll have the option to import any existing Yahoo Bookmarks
and the option to download the latest Yahoo Toolbar
, which is a quick way to add links to My Web as you browse other sites.
Using My Web
Yahoo My Web 2 enables you to further customize your Web finds by saving and sharing them with other users.
Once you've enabled My Web, you'll see some extra options as you search with Yahoo. Log in to Yahoo and browse to search.yahoo.com
. The first change you'll notice is a My Web link under the Yahoo logo and the status of your Search History feature. Click Off or On at any time to enable or disable the Search History feature. Each search result on the page will also have two links: Save and Block. Clicking Save brings up a form on the page that will allow you to choose a folder to save the site in, and a text field for adding notes to the site.
Clicking Block notifies you that the site will be blocked from future searches. You can click Unblock Site to restore the site in the current search results, or you can visit your Blocked folder to put the site back into view on future searches.
If you want to take the features of My Web with you to other Web sites, you can use the Yahoo Toolbar
. If you don't see the My Web button represented by a yellow folder on your toolbar, be sure you have the latest version of the toolbar
. You can also choose Add/Edit Buttons from the toolbar settings button, check the box next to My Web under Personal Tools, and click the Finished button. Once the My Web button is installed, you should see it with its related pull-down menu.
If you want to save a particular Web page, click the yellow folder icon with the green plus (+) sign. The pop-up window lets you modify the saved title, add a note about the page, save it to a specific My Web folder, and store the actual contents of the page just as if you'd clicked the Save button next to a Yahoo Search result.
Sharing My Web
As you browse through your saved sites at myweb.yahoo.com, you have the option to make folders full of sites public (they're private by default). Simply click the radio button next to Public in the My Web folder publishing options. Once your My Web folder is public, anyone will be able to view the sites you've saved to that folder in a number of ways. You can share the collection of Web pages in a My Web folder directly via a predictable URL. Public-folder URLs follow this pattern: http://myweb.search.yahoo.com/myweb/user/hashed account/folder name
Compare Yahoo and Google search results
Pit Yahoo and Google against each other and find more search results in the process. If you've ever searched for the same phrase at both Yahoo and Google, you've probably noticed that the results can be surprisingly different. That's because Yahoo and Google have different ways of determining which sites are relevant for a particular phrase. Though both companies keep the exact way that they determine the rank of results a secret--to thwart people who would take advantage of it--both Yahoo and Google provide some clues about what goes into their respective ranking systems.
Here's the official word from Yahoo: Yahoo Search ranks results according to their relevance to a particular query by analyzing the Web page text, title, and description accuracy as well as its source, associated links, and other unique document characteristics.
At the heart of Google's ranking system is a proprietary method called PageRank, and Google doesn't give detailed information about it. But Google does say this: "Google's order of results is automatically determined by more than 100 factors, including our PageRank algorithm." Though we might never know exactly why results are different between the two search engines, at least we can have some fun spotting the differences--and end up with more search results than either one of the sites would have offered on its own.
One way to compare results is to simply open each site in a separate browser window and manually scan for differences. If you search for your favorite dog breed--say, Australian shepherd--you'll find that the top few sites are the same across both Yahoo and Google, but the two search engines quickly diverge into different results. At the time of this writing, both sites estimate exactly 1,030,000 total results for this particular query, but estimated result counts are sometimes a way to spot differences between the sites.
Viewing both sets of results in different windows is a bit tedious, and a clever Norwegian developer named Asgeir S. Nilsen has made the task easier at a site called Twingine.
See the search results for Yahoo and Google side by side in one browser window.
site contains a blank search form where you can type any search query. When you click Search, the site brings up the results pages for that query from both Yahoo and Google, side by side. For fairness, Twingine randomly changes the sides that Google and Yahoo come up on, so people who prefer one side of the screen over the
other won't be biased. Plugging Australian shepherd
into Twingine yields a page like the one shown below.
Compare Yahoo and Google Search results
Clicking Next or Previous in the top frame at Twingine takes you to the next or previous page in the search results at both sites. Surfing the pages in the search results at Twingine can be a bit tricky. You'll probably want to open linked search results in a new window or tab so that you can keep your place in the search results at both Yahoo and Google. You can open links in a new window by right-clicking the link (Ctrl+click on a Mac) and choosing "Open link in new window" from the menu. You can also set your Yahoo Search preference to automatically open links in a new window when you're clicking a Yahoo Search result.
Yahoo vs. Google diagram
This tool visually maps the gaps and similarities between Yahoo and Google's search results.
Another site, developed by Christian Langreiter, adds a bit of analysis to the differing sets of search results between Yahoo and Google. If you have Flash installed, you can type a search query into the form at http://www.langreiter.com/exec/yahoo-vs-google.html, and the site fetches the search results from both engines in the background using their open APIs. The site delivers the results in a chart. Each blue or white dot in the diagram represents a search result URL, and the position of the dot represents the ranking. The dots on the far left are the top search results, and the further right you go, the further down you go in the search results. The blue lines represent the same URL, so you can see exactly where Google and Yahoo line up. You can see that the top search result for Australian shepherd
is the same URL, but the lines aren't as evenly matched farther down in the results. As you hover over each dot, you'll see the URL, which you can click to visit that particular search result. The white dots in the diagram represent a URL that one search has in the results that the other does not. And as this diagram demonstrates, neither search engine has a monopoly on matching pages, nor does each engine's index have every page on a particular topic.
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