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Building Research Tools with Google for Dummies

Building Research Tools with Google for Dummies

by Harold Davis

Google—a funny name for a fabulous tool. You’ve already used it to look up all sorts of information on the Web almost instantly. Now what if you could use its amazing abilities to turbo-charge your research on a grand scale?

Building Research Tools With Google For Dummies can help you do just that. In plain English, it shows you easy ways


Google—a funny name for a fabulous tool. You’ve already used it to look up all sorts of information on the Web almost instantly. Now what if you could use its amazing abilities to turbo-charge your research on a grand scale?

Building Research Tools With Google For Dummies can help you do just that. In plain English, it shows you easy ways to:

  • Ask Google exactly what you want to know
  • Determine whether what you need can actually be found through Google, and where to look if the answer is “no”
  • Improve your research results
  • Present your findings in a way that makes sense
  • Write your own specialized search applications—if you want to

To get the most from Google, you need to understand Google. Building Research Tools With Google For Dummies explains how Google works and how you can build more effective queries (hint: it’s a lot more than just using the “Advanced Search” techniques!) It even shows you how to think like a researcher and how to package the results of your research so it means something to your audience. You’ll be able to:

  • Understand Google research techniques and use the custom search-related syntax
  • Recognize Google’s strengths—and limitations
  • Target your search by using Google operators
  • Use Google to research photos, or even an entire industry
  • Improve the effectiveness of your results by understanding Google’s comparative methodology
  • Build custom tools using WDSL and Web Services

You don’t have to become a programmer to use Google, but if you know a little about software development and want to explore new, more focused search techniques, Building Research Tools With Google For Dummies has a section just for you. It introduces you to the Google API, shows you how to download a developer key, and leads you through building a C# .Net Google application. On the companion Web site, you’ll find the source code and software discussed in the book as well as links to lots of other resources for researchers. Before you know it, you’ll be Googling your way to research success!

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Read an Excerpt

Building Research Tools with Google For Dummies

By Harold Davis

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-7645-7809-X

Chapter One

Googling the World

In This Chapter

* Searching with Google

* Searching with a number

* Using Google shortcuts

* The parts of Google

* Downloading and using the Google Toolbar

How do you easily find information about anything (or anyone)? You "google" it (or them) using Google's Web search. For many (if not most) people, the Google Web search engine is the information gateway to the Web (and the world).

You probably know that it's easy to enter almost any words or names in the Google Web search engine and get useful search results back. But you may not know that you can also enter many specialized numbers into Google's Web search box - such as shipment tracking numbers, product codes, and more - and get useful results. In this chapter, I tell you about some of the specialized information you can request from Google, how to use Google shortcuts to get information about stocks and travel, and how to use Google's wonderful "secret" calculator.

Google is the world's biggest one-stop shopping mall for finding information on the Web. Most likely, you already know about - and have used - Google's Web search functions. But you may not know about some of the other "shops" that are part of the Google Web information mall. In this chapter, I list many of the hidden parts of Google - including Google Answers, Google Directory, GoogleNews, and Google Scholar - and tell you where in this book you can find more information about each specific part of Google.

Last, but hardly least, the Google Toolbar is a wonderful add-on to Internet Explorer that makes using Google more efficient and fun. In this chapter, I show you how to download and install the Google Toolbar, and explain its features to you.

Searching the Web with Google

To open the Google Web search window, which is also Google's home page, enter the URL (Uniform Resource Locator), or Web address, google.com, in your Web browser (such as Microsoft Internet Explorer).

When the Google home page appears, you see the familiar, simple, uncluttered window shown in Figure 1-1.

To search the Web with Google, enter your search terms in the text box. Click the Google Search button. The results of Google's search - a list of pages and their associated Web links - opens in your Web browser (usually in an amazingly short amount of time). For more information about what you find on a Google results page, and how to make the most of it, see Chapter 4.


If you click the I'm Feeling Lucky button instead of the Google Search button, the first result (the result at the top of the list that the Google Web search would otherwise spit out) automatically opens in your browser. This option can save time (by skipping the Google results page with its links) - but, of course, is a time-waster if the first result does not have the information you're looking for.

The vast majority of searches that you conduct with Google aren't fancy. You have done dozens, hundreds, maybe even thousands of them already. You just enter some words in the Google search box, separating each word with spaces. For a great many uses, this kind of "keep it simple" Google search is good enough.

The words entered for a Google search are sometimes called keywords or search terms. All the words in a search together are called a search phrase or query.


Researchers often need to search with greater precision than a simple keyword search allows. In Chapters 4 and 5, I explain how to use Google's query language, which strings together Google operators with keywords, to craft powerful and precise searches.

Searching using Google's rules

Even with simple Google keyword searches, there are some basic rules Google follows that you need to know about to get more out of your searches:

  • Google searches for all words (well, most words - see the next bullet) in a simple query. Example: midwest blizzard yields different results than moscow blizzard.

  • Google ignores many common words - such as and, for, and the - also called stop words (see Chapter 4 for more information), and most punctuation. Example: A search for to be or not to be does not provide meaningful results (such as a link to Hamlet's famous soliloquy) because to, be, and or are all stop words. In effect, this search is the same as searching for the word not.
  • Google finds results anywhere in a document, not just in its text (for example, within the HTML title of a page). Example: Search for organic farm and Sun Organic Farm appears near the top of the search results list because of its Web address (sunorganic.com) and title, Sun Organic Farm.

  • Google cares about word order: The first word is the most important in a search, and so on, reading left to right. Example: Just switch the word order to farm organic and it's a whole new search.

  • Google returns pages ordered by PageRank, a measure that Google uses to gauge a page's popularity (see Chapter 2 and Chapter 11 for more information about how PageRank is calculated). Example: Search for music and you won't be surprised to find MTV near the top of the result set, but you will be surprised if your garage band's Web page is. You're not famous ... yet.
  • Proximity matters: If the words in your search are close together in a result, that result will be returned before results where they are not close together. Example: The search moscow birthday leads to different results than birthday moscow (the results of the first search are centered around the city of Moscow and happen to have birthday in them, while the results of the second search are pages about birthdays - such as Michelangelo's - that for one reason or another happen to also include a reference to Moscow).
  • Google is case-insensitive: Google does not care about capitalization. Example: moscow and Moscow are the same thing (er, place) to Google.
  • Simple Google searches are limited to ten keywords.

  • Google finds its results depending on words that occur in Web pages (and that match your search words), not by analyzing your search phrase for its meaning. See the section, "Searching for words, not meaning," for more information.

    Searching for words, not meaning

    When Google pursues simple searches, it looks for word occurrences, not meaning. Although this point is simple, it is probably both the most subtle and the most important for getting good search results. You need to think about how words are likely to be used in Web pages.

    For example, a search for hello world in Google might seem likely to produce results pointing to pages with information about spiritualism, ecology, and kids' programs. But if you are a programmer, or have ever learned a programming language, you'll probably know that it's a common custom to write an introductory program that displays the phrase "Hello World." Most of the results for a hello world search link to pages about programming, programming languages, and learning to program.


    If you want to search for information about introductory programming, the query hello world might be a good way to go about it because on real-world Web pages the word "hello" and the word "world" usually appear in proximity in pages about introductory programs.

    Effectively searching

    Your simple Google searches can be highly effective, but they will probably work better if you follow these suggestions:

  • Be specific: Targeted keywords work better than more general keywords (so the more you learn about a topic, the more likely you are to create successively more effective searches). For example, if you are looking for information about environmental impact statements in Alameda County, California, a search for environmental impact alameda county ca gives you much better information than a search for environment northern ca.
  • Use both singular and plural forms of words: To Google, singular and plural forms of words are different words. You may need to try both singular and plural forms in successive searches. For example, if you are interested in monks and medieval music, a search for monk polyphony yields different results than a search for monks polyphony (so you should run both searches for the most useful results). You can run both searches together by combining the single and plural forms, for example, monk monks polyphony.
  • Use distinctive and important keywords: If you can think of an unusual word that will most likely appear on most pages with information you are interested in, then you are most of the way to an effective, but simple, Google search. For example, if you are looking for material with information about building software that customizes Google, the search term google apis web service probably works well - better than program google.

    Refining your search

    One of the biggest problems with Google searches is sifting through the large number of results that are often returned. Many of these results are not what you are looking for.

    There are several easy ways to refine a simple Google search. These techniques yield essentially comparable results. You can

  • Add words to an existing query

  • Use Google's Search Within Results feature

    To add words to an existing search, first run the initial query, for example, hello world.

    As I explain earlier, in "Searching for words, not meaning," a search for the phrase hello world might be useful if you are looking for introductory information about programming languages. But that doesn't mean that you'll only end up with results about programming - so such a restriction might be very helpful, seeing as how the last time I did this search, Google yielded some 16 million results.

    You can refine your search so that you only find material about programming languages. Scroll to the bottom of the first Google results page and you see the Google search box with the search words hello world already in it. You can add the terms programming language immediately after the original search terms and click the Search button (see Figure 1-2). A new, refined, results page displays.


    The Google search box, with the existing search terms already in it, also appears at the top of each search results page.

    Alternatively, on a Google results page, you can click the Search within results link. This link appears at the bottom of each Google search results page (refer to Figure 1-2).

    When you click the Search within results link, the Google Search Within Results window, shown in Figure 1-3, opens.

    In the Search Within Results window, you can add the terms, such as programming language, that you want to use to refine your search. Google searches for the new term (in this case, programming language), but only within the results for the previous search (hello world).

    Number searches

    We live in a world in which things - and even people, eek! - are often identified by numbers. This makes it a gosh darn good thing that you can enter most of these numbers in Google and get meaningful results.


    Google provides a shorthand way to search for a numerical range. For example, a search for 1066 ... 1099 returns results for all numbers between 1066 and 1099. You can use numerical range matching if you are sure of most of a number, but not all of it; for example, if you know the first nine digits of a number, but not the last three digits.

    You may be scratching your head at this point because you're not aware of all the meaningful results you can get when you enter numbers into the Google search box.


    A "number" might be a mixed combination of numbers and letters used to identify something.

    Some numbers you can search for include

  • Airplane registration numbers

  • Area codes

  • FCC (Federal Communication Commission) call signs used as station identifiers; for example, the ham radio call sign KD7KH
  • ISBN numbers, used to identify books; for example, 0-7645-7809-X

  • Patent numbers; for example, 6285999

  • Phone numbers, if you do a reverse phonebook lookup (providing the name and address associated with a number) (See Chapter 5 for more information about research that uses telephone information.)

  • Product codes that are manufacturer specific

  • Tracking numbers for shipments from Federal Express, United Parcel Service, and United States Postal Service
  • UPCs (Universal Product Codes) used to identify a product

  • VINs (Vehicle Identification Numbers)

  • Zip codes

  • Almost any kind of number used as an identifier

    When you enter any of these types of identification numbers in Google, you may see a typical search results page with links that provide information using the number. Sometimes, however, you may see a special search results page - for example, if you search for a Federal Express shipping number, a page with a Track FedEx package XXXXXXXXX link appears. Clicking the link opens the Federal Express page used for tracking that package.

    Google shortcuts

    Google provides a number of helpful shortcuts that you can use to easily find a wide array of information. In this section, I tell you about three of these shortcut techniques. I show you how to use Google to

  • Perform simple and complex calculations

  • Find information about any publicly traded stock

  • Get travel information

    The Google calculator

    The Google calculator does arithmetic for you, and also performs more complex calculations. You just have to use the syntax specified by Google - see google.com/help/calculator.html for complete information about using the calculator - and enter your expression for calculation.

    For example, enter 42*12 in the Google box and click the Search button. The answer (504) appears on the results page, along with a link so that you can learn more about the calculator. Another link appears to search for the query 42 * 12, just in case you really meant to search rather than to calculate.

    Enter the expression 2*pi*26 into the Google search box and click the Search button. This expression evaluates to 163.362818 (which is the circumference of a circle with a radius of 26).

    The Google calculator can do much more! Suppose you want to find the value of the famous mathematical expression e^(i pi)+1. If you enter this expression in Google and click Search, you'll find that it evaluates to 0, as you can see in Figure 1-4.


    To find out more about the expression shown in Figure 1-4, search Google for Euler's Identity or click the link that lets you search for more information about the expression e^(i pi)+1.

    Finding out about stocks

    To find out about a publicly traded stock, enter the word stock, followed by a colon, followed by the ticker symbol for the company (all without spaces) in the Google box and click Search. For example:



    If you don't know the ticker symbol for a company, you can usually find it by searching for all (or part) of the company name, followed by the word ticker, for example:

    Google ticker

    When you use the stock: operator with a valid stock ticker symbol, the first link on the Google results page that appears is a Stock quotes link. Click this link to open a framed, tabbed page of financial and securities information. Tabs with information are provided by Yahoo! Finance, The Motley Fool, MSN MoneyCentral, and ClearStation.

    Getting travel information

    Finding travel information quickly is simple when you use the Google search box. Here are a couple of the travel shortcuts provided by Google:

  • Airport code: Enter a three letter airport code followed by the word airport to find a great deal of information about the airport. For example, oak airport yields information about Metropolitan Oakland International Airport. The first link on the results page when you conduct this type of search is to the Federal Aviation Administration's travel conditions page, which provides local weather conditions for the airport.
  • Airline search: If you enter the name of an airline, followed by a flight number - for example, United 511 - the results include links to information about the flight status.

    Getting local information

    Google also provides some tools to help you find specific local information.

    If you add a zip code (or city) after your other search terms, the first few results Google returns are local results within the zip code (or city) you specified. These local results are indicated with a little compass icon (see Figure 1-5). A compass icon appears at the top-left side of the search results page; click it if you want to see more local results.


    Excerpted from Building Research Tools with Google For Dummies by Harold Davis Excerpted by permission.
    All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
    Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

  • Meet the Author

    Harold Davis is an expert on Web services technologies. As a technology strategist, he has lent his skills to some of the leading high-tech Fortune 1000 companies.

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