Search engines are an intrinsic part of the array of commonly used “open source” research tools. Together with social media, domain name look-ups, and more traditional solutions such as newspapers and telephone directories, effective web searching will help you find vital information to support your investigation.

Many people find that search engines often bring up disappointing results from dubious sources. A few tricks, however, can ensure that you corner the pages you are looking for, from sites you can trust. The same goes for searching social networks and other sources to locate people: A bit of strategy and an understanding of how to extract what you need will improve results.

This chapter focuses on three areas of online investigation:

1-Effective web searching 

2-Finding people online

3-Identifying domain ownership

1. Effective web searching

Search engines like Google don’t actually know what web pages are about. They do, however, know the words that are on the pages. So to get a search engine to behave itself, you need to work out which words are on your target pages.

First off, choose your search terms wisely. Each word you add to the search focuses the results by eliminating results that don’t include your chosen keywords.

Some words are on every page you are after. Other words might or might not be on the target page. Try to avoid those subjective keywords, as they can eliminate useful pages from the results.


Use advanced search syntax.

Most search engines have useful so-called hidden features that are essential to helping focus your search and improve results.

Optional keywords

If you don’t have definite keywords, you can still build in other possible keywords without damaging the results. For example, pages discussing heroin use in Texas might not include the word “Texas”; they may just mention the names of different cities. You can build these into your search as optional keywords by separating them with the word OR (in capital letters).

You can use the same technique to search for different spellings of the name of an individual, company or organization.

Search by domain

You can focus your search on a particular site by using the search syntax “site:” followed by the domain name.

For example, to restrict your search to results from Twitter:

To add Facebook to the search, simply use “OR” again:

You can use this technique to focus on a particular company’s website, for example. Google will then return results only from that site.

You can also use it to focus your search on municipal and academic sources, too. This is particularly effective when researching countries that use unique domain types for government and university sites.

Note: When searching academic websites, be sure to check whether the page you find is written or maintained by the university, one of its professors or one of the students. As always, the specific source matters.

Searching for file types

Some information comes in certain types of file formats. For instance, statistics, figures and data often appear in Excel spreadsheets. Professionally produced reports can often be found in PDF documents. You can specify a format in your search by using “filetype:” followed by the desired data file extension (xls for spreadsheet, docx for Word documents, etc.).

2. Finding people

Groups can be easy to find online, but it’s often trickier to find an individual person. Start by building a dossier on the person you’re trying to locate or learn more about. This can include the following:

The person’s name, bearing in mind:

Different variations (does James call himself “James,” “Jim,” “Jimmy” or “Jamie”?).

The spelling of foreign names in Roman letters (is Yusef spelled “Yousef” or “Yusuf”?).

Did the names change when a person married?

Do you know a middle name or initial?

The town the person lives in and or was born in.

The person’s job and company.

Their friends and family members’ names, as these may appear in friends and follower lists.

The person’s phone number, which is now searchable in Facebook and may appear on web pages found in Google searches.

Any of the person’s usernames, as these are often constant across various social networks.

The person’s email address, as these may be entered into Facebook to reveal linked accounts. If you don’t know an email address, but have an idea of the domain the person uses, sites such as email-format can help you guess it.

A photograph, as this can help you find the right person, if the name is common.

Advanced social media searches: Facebook

Facebook’s newly launched search tool is amazing. Unlike previous Facebook searches, it will let you find people by different criteria including, for the first time, the pages someone has Liked. It also enables you to perform keyword searches on Facebook pages.

This keyword search, the most recent feature, sadly does not incorporate any advanced search filters (yet). It also seems to restrict its search to posts from your social circle, their favorite pages and from some high-profile accounts.

Aside from keywords in posts, the search can be directed at people, pages, photos, events, places, groups and apps. The search results for each are available in clickable tabs.

For example, a simple search for Chelsea will find bring up related pages and posts in the Posts tab:

The People tab brings up people named Chelsea. As with the other tabs, the order of results is weighted in favor of connections to your friends and favorite pages.

The Photos tab will bring up photos posted publicly, or posted by friends that are related to the word Chelsea (such as Chelsea Clinton, Chelsea Football Club or your friends on a night out in the Chelsea district of London).

The real investigative value of Facebook’s search becomes apparent when you start focusing a search on what you really want.

For example, if you are investigating links between extremist groups and football, you might want to search for people who like The English Defence League and Chelsea Football Club. To reveal the results, remember to click on the “People” tab.

This search tool is new and Facebook are still ironing out the creases, so you may need a few attempts at wording your search. That said, it is worth your patience.

Facebook also allows you to add all sorts of modifiers and filters to your search. For example, you can specify marital status, sexuality, religion, political views, pages people like, groups they have joined and areas they live or grew up in. You can specify where they studied, what job they do and which company they work for. You can even find the comments that someone has added to uploaded photos. You can find someone by name or find photos someone has been tagged in. You can list people who have participated in events and visited named locations. Moreover, you can combine all these factors into elaborate, imaginative, sophisticated searches and find results you never knew possible. That said, you may find still better results searching the site via search engines like Google (add “site:facebook.com” to the search box).


Advanced social media searches: Twitter

Many of the other social networks allow advanced searches that often go far beyond the simple “keyword on page” search offered by sites such as Google. Twitter’s advanced search, for example, allows you to trace conversations between users and add a date range to your search.

Twitter allows third-party sites to use its data and create their own exciting searches.
Followerwonk, for example, lets you search Twitter bios and compare different users. Topsy has a great archive of tweets, along with other unique functionality.

Advanced social media searches: LinkedIn

LinkedIn will let you search various fields including location, university attended, current company, past company or seniority.

You have to log in to LinkedIn in order to use the advanced search, so remember to check your privacy settings. You wouldn’t want to leave traceable footprints on the profile of someone you are investigating!

You can get into LinkedIn’s advanced search by clicking on the link next to the search box. Be sure, also, to select “3rd + Everyone Else” under relationship. Otherwise , your search will include your friends and colleagues and their friends.

LinkedIn was primarily designed for business networking. Its advanced search seems to have been designed primarily for recruiters, but it is still very useful for investigators and journalists. Personal data exists in clearly defined subject fields, so it is easy to specify each element of your search.

You can enter normal keywords, first and last names, locations, current and previous employers, universities and other factors. Subscribers to their premium service can specify company size and job role.

LinkedIn will let you search various fields including location, university attended, current company, past company and seniority.

Other options

Sites like Geofeedia and Echosec allow you to find tweets, Facebook posts, YouTube videos, Flickr and Instagram photos that were sent from defined locations. Draw a box over a region or a building and reveal the social media activity. Geosocialfootprint.com will plot a Twitter user’s activity onto a map (all assuming the users have enabled location for their accounts).

Additionally, specialist “people research” tools like Pipl and Spokeo can do a lot of the hard legwork for your investigation by searching for the subject on multiple databases, social networks and even dating websites. Just enter a name, email address or username and let the search do the rest. Another option is to use the multisearch tool from Storyful. It’s a browser plugin for Chrome that enables you to enter a single search term, such as a username, and get results from Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr and Spokeo. Each site opens in a new browser tab with the relevant results.

Searching by profile pic

People often use the same photo as a profile picture for different social networks. This being the case, a reverse image search on sites like TinEye and Google Images, will help you identify linked accounts.

3. Identifying domain ownership

Many journalists have been fooled by malicious websites. Since it’s easy for anyone to buy an unclaimed .com, .net or .org site, we should not go on face value. A site that looks well produced and has authentic-sounding domain name may still be a political hoax, false company or satirical prank.

Some degree of quality control can be achieved by examining the domain name itself. Google it and see what other people are saying about the site. A “whois” search is also essential. DomainTools.com is one of many sites that offers the ability to perform a whois search. It will bring up the registration details given by the site owner the domain name was purchased.


For example, the World Trade Organization was preceded by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trades (GATT). There are, apparently, two sites representing the WTO. There’s wto.org (genuine) and gatt.org (a hoax). A mere look at the site hosted at gatt.org should tell most researchers that something is wrong, but journalists have been fooled before.

A whois search dispels any doubt by revealing the domain name registration information. Wto.org is registered to the International Computing Centre of the United Nations. Gatt.org, however, is registered to “Andy Bichlbaum” from the notorious pranksters the Yes Men.

Whois is not a panacea for verification. People can often get away with lying on a domain registration form. Some people will use an anonymizing service like Domains by Proxy, but combining a whois search with other domain name and IP address tools forms a valuable weapon in the battle to provide useful material from authentic sources.


Categorized in Investigative Research

Everyone knows how to pop a search term into Google and hit the search button, but very few realize the true power of Google. In this short-but-revealing gallery, I uncover 10 little-known facets of Google that are guaranteed to make even the most astute searcher abetter searcher. A few of the topics I will be covering are how to search FTPs with Google; how to block sites from your search results; and how to search Google Docs. If you're an advanced Google search novice, that's okay! Just be sure to read the recommended articles beneath each description in this gallery and they'll turn you into a pro in no time. And now, without any further ado, here are 10 Google search secrets.

How to block unwanted search results

Are there any searches you regularly perform that, no matter how much you refine the search query, you find yourself having to wade through the same garbage sites each time? Luckily, you don't have to put up with that any longer! Simply visit this URL, add the sites you would like to block, then never again worry about seeing them pollute your search results! To note, you can only block a total of 500 sites, but I've yet to come even close to hitting that limit.

How to block unwanted search results

How to search Google docs

If you're a document hunter like me, then you would undoubtedly enjoy searching Google Docs. The only problem is, if you visit the main Google Docs URL, you can only search documents of your own, or documents that have been shared with you. Fortunately, however, there's a nice little workaround: site:docs.google.com



All you need to do at that point is enter the search terms you're interested in finding documents about and voila! For example, if you want to search for documents about Windows 7 on Google Docs, then you could try a query like this: site:docs.google.com "Windows 7"

How to search Google docs

How to search FTPs with Google!

You may be aware of the fact that Google indexes FTPs, but did you know you can prefix your search query with a little something that will show only results from FTPs? Until Google makes this an option (if they ever make it an option), here's how you do it with advanced operators:inurl:ftp -inurl:(http|https)

If you're interested in searching FTPs, I highly recommend reading my "Search ninja part 4: How to search FTPs with Google" post, where I dive deeper into this functionality and offer a couple of great FTP search engine alternatives!

How to search FTPs with Google!

Reverse image search: pure awesomeness

See the little camera icon to the left of the seach button in the image above? Go to the Google Images home pageand click that button. What you will see is a menu that asks you either for a URL or to upload an image. So, what good does that do you? Well, have you ever seen a tiny picture that you wanted to see full-size? Simply save that image or copy the URL to it, follow the prompt after you click that camera icon, then revel in the joy that is reverse image search!

That is just one of the many applications reverse image search is good for. Check out this post of mine, as well as the Google video below, for additional clarity and uses of reverse image search:

Reverse image search: pure awesomeness

How to view non-personalized search results

Tired of seeing search results that are filled with personal recommendations, auto-corrections, and more? Google quietly launched the "verbatim" tool a number of months ago to help you alleviate that. To use it, after you perform a search, on the left, you will see "More search tools." Click it and it will drop down to reveal the "verbatim" tool. Once you click "verbatim," your search results will refresh and yield unfiltered, uninfluenced search results. For more about the "verbatim" tool, click here to read Google's official announcement of it.

How to view non-personalized search results


How to quickly find a definition

Need to know the definition of a word? Simply head to Google and use the "define:" operator! For example, if you wanted a definition of ZDNet, you would search for the following: define:zdnet


Easy peasy, lemon squeezy!

How to quickly find a definition

How to view direct links in Google

One of my pet peeves with Google is that I can't just right-click on a link and choose "save target as." This is especially annoying when sifting through mountains of .ppt, .pdf, .doc,  and similar document/presentation filetypes. As such, I use a little trick with Firefox to allow me to quickly copy the full, direct link.

In the image above, you can see the title of the result that I have highlighted in addition to "oc" just beneath it. The trick is to start from where the "oc" is (which will be something other than "oc," if you're using a search result of your own) and highlight that one word plus the title of the search result. Then, you right-click on the word (noton the title of the search result) and select "View Selection Source" from the drop-down box. Firefox will take you straight to the section of code where the full link is displayed. You can then copy it and do with it whatever you so desire.

How to view direct links in Google

How to see results from just one site

Put simply, I find that Google knows most Web sites better than they know themselves. As such, I rarely ever use the built-in search functionality of a Web site. Instead, I opt for the site: advanced operator to filter results by the site I'm interested in searching, then follow it with the keywords I'm interseted in. For instance, if you want to search Microsoft's site for .pdf documents containing "Windows 7," you can simply run the following search query: site:microsoft.com filetype:pdf "Windows 7"

To note, Microsoft isn't the best example to give in this case, because they integrate their own Web search engine (Bing) to provide search functionality, as opposed to some small-time custom search built into only their site. Even so, the point remains!

How to see results from just one site

How to find educational documents and more

How often do you use the Internet to educate yourself? For me, the answer is "frequently." As such, one little trick I've come up with to dig up some great educational content is to search .edu domains (which belong to educational establishments). Let's say you're interested in learning about C++ programming and you would like to see "Introduction to C++" types of documents/presentations. All you have to do is perform a search query similar to the following: site:edu intitle:"Introduction to C++" filetype:pdf

Don't forget that there are many document/presentation file types you can search for as well! A variation of the search query above, to include additional file types, is as follows: site:edu intitle:"Introduction to C++" filetype:pdf | filetype:ppt | filetype:doc

How to find educational documents and more

Cached view: buried, not gone!

Remember the cached view? I've met a few people who were upset because they thought Google had completely done away with it! Hopefully, that will never be the case, but, for now, the "cached" functionality is still alive and kicking -- it's just slightly buried. Once you perform a search, if you hover over the search result you're interested in seeing a cached view of, you will see a rectangular box with two right-facing arrows appear. If you hover over it, you will see a site preview that shows you where on the page your search term is located. Additionally, for most pages, you will see a "Cached" link, as pictured above. Click it, and you'll be taken to the page as it's cached on Google's end.


So, there you have it! 10 Google search secrets to help make you a better searcher (or, at least, to help you improve your search results). If you found this helpful, please spread the word and be sure to check out the additional recommended reading provided with each of the points noted throughout this gallery. Thanks for reading and happy searching!

Cached view: buried, not gone!

Source: zdnet.com

Categorized in Research Methods

Search engines do a lot more than immediately meets the eye. If you’re getting results that aren’t relevant, if you're getting too many results, if you want to find something on a particular web site, or if you just want to do a quick calculation or measurement conversion, there are some pretty cool tricks that you can do.

Some of these techniques will work in any search engine, but the coolest features work only on Google. Also, please keep in mind that since web content changes frequently, the results you get from running the sample searches in this tutorial may be different from what I show. 

Choose Your Default Browser Based on Your Preferred Search Engine

If you prefer Google, install Chrome and if you prefer Bing, use the latest version of Internet Explorer on your PC. The reason is that you can type search terms directly in the Address bar (Chrome calls this the Omni Box). In Chrome, this defaults to searching Google, and in IE, this defaults to searching Bing. You can switch the default search engine, but you get the best integration with these search engines with these respective browsers. 

chrome address bar



Otherwise, in Safari or Firefox, just pick your favorite search engine so you can use it automatically from the address or search box, respectively.

Using Punctuation and Boolean Operators

Quotation marks mean that you’re looking for a specific phrase. Over the years, search engines have gotten so good at guessing what we want, quotation marks aren’t as necessary as they used to be. But they can still be helpful. For example:

“bow ties are cool”

will be far more likely to find that exact phrase, where searching without the quote would lead to pages talking about cool bow ties, but not necessarily that exact phrase.

OR and parenthesis

By default, if you search for several words, most search engines will show results where both or all of the words are found. This is known as an AND search – as though you wanted this and this. But if you want results with either (or any) of your words, use the OR keyword. It means that either (or any) of your search terms were found. For example:

“Doctor Who” OR “Sherlock Holmes”

This will find pages containing either the phrase “Doctor Who” or the phrase “Sherlock Holmes”. Some page results will contain both.

When you place search terms in a set of parenthesis, they are treated as a single unit. So…

(“Doctor Who” OR “Sherlock Holmes”) (“Matt Smith” “Steven Moffat”)

This will find pages containing either the phrase “Doctor Who” or the phrase “Sherlock Holmes”, and also the name of either actor Matt Smith or producer Steven Moffat.

Are you familiar with the Boolean NOT operator (or a minus sign)? Google still lists it in the documentation, but Google, Bing and Yahoo ignore it and it no longer works.

Searching Within a Specific Site

One of my favorite search features is the site keyword, which limits a search to a specific web site. This is great if a site doesn’t have its own search form, or if it isn’t working. For example:

“Peter Capaldi” site:bbcamerica.com

This will find references to actor Peter Capaldi, but only on www.BBCAmerica.com.

You can also use the site attribute to limit searches to a particular top-level domain, like .org, .gov and so on. For example:

"fishing license" site:.gov

This will show you government sites that contain the phrase “fishing license”.

Wildcard Searches

Sometimes you know part of a phrase you’re looking for, but aren’t sure of all the words or maybe how the words will be spelled. That’s when an asterisk comes to the rescue, as a wildcard. It’s especially handy if there are several ways of expressing what you want. For example:

the three *

…will show results for The Three Stooges, The Three Doctors, The Three Musketeers, The Three Tenors, and more.

You can also search for numbers in a range, by using two periods as a wildcard. For example, if you’re shopping for an Android tablet and have a budget of $300 to $600, do this search:

android tablet $300..$600

Connectivity Searches

Two great keywords that show connectivity are the link and related keywords. The link keyword will show what pages link to a particular page. For example:


The related keyword will show what sites are similar to the one you specify. Who is to say what qualifies as being similar? Who knows! The algorithms are proprietary. For example:


If you visit a page that doesn’t have content that you’re expecting to see – for example, a news item is no longer on the front page – Google might have it cached. So try the cache operator to see what the site looked like the last time Google crawled it:


An Operator That Combines All of the Above
Rather than remember all the above operators, you can remember just one, instead: info. When you run info against a web address, you’ll get a menu of operators that you can click to get the results. For example:


result of Info keyword




Filtering Results

Sometimes, you might want to see only recent results, or results from a specific time period. After running a search in Google, click the Search Tools link just below the Search bar, then from the submenu that appears, click Any Time and make a choice. In Bing, Any Time is always visible just below the Search bar, and Yahoo has timings in the left column.

Also from Google’s submenu, you can choose a reading level from All Results, and choose a location on the right. Google will try to detect your location automatically, but it doesn’t always guess correctly. It tends to use the location where your Internet provider’s equipment is. If you want to change the location, click the Down Arrow and enter the location you want. Entering a Zip or Postal code usually works. 

filtering results by time


Undocumented Google Keywords

Page Title, Content and URL
If you want to search for words specifically in a page title, and ignore page content, use the intitle keyword. For example, if you’re looking for articles that compare Android with iOS, try this:

intitle:android AND iOS

If you’re searching for multiple words and want results where all of the words are in the title, not just some of them, use allintitle instead.

The opposite of searching titles is searching page content and ignoring the title. For that, use the intext keyword, as follows:

intext:android AND iOS

Keep in mind that many pages will have the same phrases in the titles and content, so many of the results from the previous two searches will be the same.

You can also search for a word that appears in a page’s URL, with the inurl keyword, like this:


When searching for multiple words, you can also use allinurl to make sure that all the words or phrases are in the URL.

Google also has similar keywords specifically to search blogs. They are:


Finding Files of a Specific Type

With the filetype keyword, you can restrict search results to display a particular type of file, like image or archive files, or Adobe and Microsoft documents. For example, if you want a sample expense sheet in Excel and don’t like Excel’s built-in templates, this search will find some for you:

expense sheet filetype:xlsx

Need a quick weather forecast? Use the weather keyword and Zip or Postal code to get current conditions and a graph for the next several hours:

Weather 08822


You can also get a quick dictionary definition, using the define keyword. It isn’t as extensive as using dictionary.com, but it’s a lot faster. For example:


Math, Measurement and Language Conversions

If you need to do some quick calculations or convert measurements from one unit to another, Google and Bing have you covered.

Basic Arithmetic Searches in Google and Bing

1035 + 698
317537 – 1517
256 * 768

When you enter a calculation into the Search/Address bar, both Google and Bing will display a handy calculator. You can click the buttons or use the numbers on your keyboard. If your keyboard has a number pad, this is especially nice.


built-in calculator


Converting Between Imperial and Metric Units

If you’re converting a recipe from Imperial to Metric measurements (or vice-versa) or converting distance, temperature, weight and more, you can do this with a simple search in Google or Bing. Most units you can abbreviate (like g instead of grams or oz instead of ounces).


2 cups in ml
500g in oz
200 miles in km
80F in C
Similar to doing arithmetic, when you search for a unit conversion, Google and Bing will display a conversion calculator, with your search displayed in it. Click the top drop-down list to choose different types of conversions (temperature, length, etc.) and click the lower drop-downs to choose different units. 

unit conversion calculator



Language Translation

Google can translate in and out of approximately a dozen languages. How do you say “wind” in Spanish or what does the French word "suivant" mean? Run these searches:

wind in Spanish

suivant in English

Other Cool Features

Here are some great tips that don't fit into other categories.

Flight Status

Want to check the status of a flight? Just search for the airline and flight number. Google will show the flight status, and if the flight is currently in the air, you’ll see its relative position, as in the screen capture below. Bing will show basic departure and arrival information. For example:

United flight 1

airline flight status display




Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon

If you want to know how many degrees of separation there are between almost any actor and actor Kevin Bacon, do a bacon number search in Google, like this:

Harrison Ford bacon number

The answer to that particular query is 2. 

Tracking Packages and Searching Other Numbers
Google has information on package deliveries from the United States Postal Service, UPS and FedEx. The tracking numbers for these services use different formats, so you don’t have to specify which one you want; just enter the number like this:


Doing a patent search? Use the patent keyword followed by the patent number:

patent 5889566

Google does several other alphanumeric searches that don’t require a keyword. Just enter the numbers to search for:

Zip code
VIN (Vehicle ID number)
FAA airplane registration number
Phone number
Search Mars and Beyond
This isn’t a search as much as it’s an undocumented feature, courtesy of NASA as well as Google. Just go to:


…and have a look around! The default view is a false-color elevation map, and you can also choose infrared and real-life visible surface. There’s also an option to explore Mars using Google Earth.

interactive map of mars



Once you’ve conquered Mars, try your hand – or bat’leth – in Klingon. Yes, Google has a Klingon language version at:


You might find a good recipe for gakh. Ka’plah! 

Source:  http://www.airsassociation.org/administrator/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item

Categorized in Search Techniques

airs logo

Association of Internet Research Specialists is the world's leading community for the Internet Research Specialist and provide a Unified Platform that delivers, Education, Training and Certification for Online Research.

Get Exclusive Research Tips in Your Inbox

Receive Great tips via email, enter your email to Subscribe.

Follow Us on Social Media