The news lately is full of stories about search engines and the declining quality of their results. When I drilled down to read user comments on some of these articles, I was surprised to see people saying we need ways to include or exclude domains from the results. People also suggested that the search engines should allow us to set preferences. I’m not sure what everyone wants, but some easy solutions exist today.
Finding Search Results From Specific Domains
Sometimes when people search, they prefer to see results from a specific site. For example, some people prefer going to Microsoft websites when they research a Windows error. In this case, you would tell the search engines to only include or show Microsoft domains by using the site: search operator. I’ve shown this in the yellow highlighting below.
In the example above, you can see the Google search results are from Microsoft properties with differing subdomains such as social.answers.microsoft.com, support.microsoft.com and windows.microsoft.com.
The same search syntax can be used with Microsoft Bing or Yahoo! although the results are slightly different.
This trick can be used to filter by other site criteria such as top-level domains (TLD). As example, maybe you want to research how to prevent identity theft, but only trust domains belonging to .gov domains. In that case, you could type:prevent identity theft site:gov
If you only wanted results from educational institutions, you could type:prevent identity theft site:edu
Excluding Search Results By Domain
Sometimes, the problem is the opposite and you don’t want to see results from a specific domain. Maybe you want to find a solution to your Windows update problem that doesn’t include Microsoft in the results. In this case, you amend the search query by adding a minus sign before the site: operator. I find this type of query useful if I want to find out what other websites are saying about a product besides the manufacturer.
In the screen snap above, you can see the results do not contain listings from Microsoft properties.
A New Approach With Surf CanyonSome people find site operators cumbersome and want sticky preferences with more control. If that’s your case, you should try a browser add-on called Surf Canyon. The free service has been around for several years and works with Google Chrome, Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox. Each search result has a small bull’s eye to the right that allows you to drill down and see real time recommendations based on that entry. It’s common to see new recommendations from pages deep within the results stack.
The add-on also has personalization options at http://my.surfcanyon.com/ . One customization option on the Domain tab provides a table where you can enter 10 prefer and 10 dislike domains. This makes it easier than using the site operator. If you prefer a site, it doesn’t mean you’ll only see results from that domain. Instead, it means that domain will be recommended to you more. In contrast, if you enter a domain in the dislike section, it will be removed from the search results.
Another useful feature toward the page bottom is labeled Remove content farm sites from search page. (It’s the checkbox labeled as number 3 in the above picture.) By checking this box, you’re instructing Surf Canyon to remove results from a predefined set of content farm sites. You can see the present list of sites that would be excluded by clicking the learn more link. There’s a lot of debate about content farms, but many people dislike them. These sites typically have a large pool of writers who produce massive numbers of articles with less regard to quality.
The problem with this feature is you may think a site that Surf Canyon labels as a content farm provides relevant content. You can’t pick and choose from their list, as it’s an “all or none” option. If this is the case, you should probably put in the domains you don’t want in the dislike column.
I think the best way to try Surf Canyon is by downloading the version for your specific browser although you can search from their domain too.
I suspect that the press will continue to debate the issue of search relevancy for a long time. After all, there is no agreed upon measurement standard. Who knows, maybe new search engines like Blekko, DuckDuckGo and Wolfram|Alpha will make inroads.
Last Updated (Saturday, 27 August 2011 14:03)