Search engines can help you find specific information on the Internet, but they also flood you with large amounts of irrelevant information. With a little bit of extra effort on your part, though, you can make sure that a search engine finds exactly what you want, as quickly as possible. The next time you use a search engine, try some of the following tips.

Search within categories

Many search engines, such as Yahoo!, display categories such as Computers & Internet or Business & Economy. If you click on a category and then use the search engine, you'll have the option of searching the entire Internet or limiting your search to within the currently selected category. Obviously searching within a selected category will take less time and avoid a lot of irrelevant websites.

Still, you might like to search the entire Internet just for the surprise of seeing what the search engine might uncover that is not in your specific category.

Use specific words

If you want to find all websites that focus on birds, you could type the word "bird" into a search engine. Unfortunately, the search engine might return thousands of irrelevant websites that talk about badminton birdies or different ways to cook game birds. Instead of searching for general words, use more specific words such as "ornithology" (which is the branch of zoology dealing with birds). The more precise your search terms, the less likely the search engine will be to return irrelevant websites.

Use multiple words

You can also narrow your search by typing in multiple words. For example, if you wanted to find information about Miami, Florida, type in the two words "Miami" and "Florida." If you just search for "Miami" or "Florida," the search engine might bombard you with websites about the Miami Dolphins football team or the Florida Marlins baseball team. In general, the more words you search for, the more likely the search engine will find exactly what you want.

Use Boolean operators

Many search engines allow you to focus your search by using two different Boolean operators: AND and OR.

If you wanted to search for all websites that contain both the words "hot" and "dog," you would simply type the following into the search field:

hot AND dog

This search would find websites devoted to hot dogs, but could also turn up websites that talk about ways to cool down a dog on a hot day.

If you wanted to search for all websites that contain either the word "hot" or "dog," you would type the following into the search field:

hot OR dog

This could turn up websites that talk about hot dogs along with sites that mention dogs, different ways air conditioning can cool you down on a hot day, hot chili sauces, or dog food.

Be wary of what you find

The order that a search engine ranks websites can influence which ones people may visit, so to increase the odds that people will visit a specific website, some websites pay search engines to put them first (or at least near the top) of any list of related websites. The better search engines identify which websites paid for greater exposure, but other search engines may not be so honest.

Also, because search engines scan websites for keywords that people are most likely to search for, many websites hide multiple copies of the same keyword on their web pages. This tricks a search engine into thinking the website contains more information about a particular keyword than it really does.

As with reading newspapers, listening to the radio, or watching the news on television, always be wary of the source of your information. Search engines can find information for you, but they can't verify the accuracy of the information. Anyone can put any information on a website.