Q. As a CPA in tax, I hate having to go on long internet searches for answers during busy season. Got any suggestions for speeding those up so I can get actual work done?
A. Searching the internet has become an everyday aspect of our lives. In fact, according to SEOTribunal, we perform 5.6 billion Google searches every day. That's a lot of opportunities to sharpen our search pencils! Here are five tips that could benefit even an advanced searcher.
1. Use Google to search a specific website
Unless a website developer manually chooses against it, Google indexes all the content of websites it crawls. As a result, you can leverage the power of Google to perform a search within a specific website.
The Google search algorithm sorts the results based on link popularity and keyword relevance better than the search tools built into most websites. For example, let's say you want to search for 2019 tax changes on the IRS website. You can simply type in that term on IRS.gov or search the IRS website via Google. To perform a search focused on a specific website, precede the search with "site:domain name" followed by the search terms. In the IRS example, the search "site:irs.gov 2019 tax changes" produced the results in the image below.
Now compare those results to those produced by a search on an IRS website using the built-in search tool (see the screenshot below). As you can see, the Google search results are much more relevant and useful.
2. Filter your search results based on date
Depending on what you're looking for, you might want to ensure the results are from a specific period. As an example, searching for information about "password alternatives" includes results from 2016. As we all know, information from four years ago related to IT security is likely outdated and no longer relevant.
To fix this, simply click the Tools button in a Google search and then select the period that makes the most sense for you (see the top part of the screenshot below). You can filter the results to articles from this year, this month, or even from this week. The results of a past-year search for "password alternatives" are shown in the second screenshot below.
3. Eliminate search results containing specific words
Sometimes when searching in Google, your results will be overwhelmed with hits that are not relevant to what you are looking for. By strategically eliminating specific keywords from your results, you can remove keywords from the hit list.
A well-placed hyphen is all you need. Compare the two images below. If you perform a search for "Search Engine Tips" and you don't want to be overwhelmed with Google-specific tips (as shown in the screenshot below), simply add "-google" to your search, and any results with Google will be eliminated (as shown in the second screenshot below).
4. Use your search history
We've all been there. "I know I found a great website last week about that, and now I can't find it!" Sound familiar? There's a simple solution. By using myactivity.google.com, you can browse your search history and find the website you found previously (see the screenshot below).
You can customize the results in your history to specific times and phrases, making the "forgotten search result" obsolete!
5. Don't depend on search keyword recommendations
In an attempt to make searching easier for people, Google and many other search engines have started suggesting search terms as we type. This has created confusion for some searchers, who believe they have to select one of the options Google suggests.
Despite how spooky it can be when Google reads your mind after typing two letters and suggests the search you wanted, it isn't always right. Type your full search and press Enter without waiting for Google to offer you a suggestion.
In the two examples in the screenshot below, you can see Google never suggested the search I ultimately wanted to complete. Trust your judgment on the search terms; don't wait for Google to make a different suggestion all the time.
Search engines are useful tools that can help educate anyone on any subject, but when you're after specific information, these tips should help you get to the data you need quickly. With these search tips and continued practice, you can become a powerful search expert. Just remember, with great power comes great responsibility!
— By Byron Patrick, CPA/CITP, CGMA
About the authors
Kelly L. Williams, CPA, Ph.D., MBA, is an assistant professor of accounting at Middle Tennessee State University. Byron Patrick, CPA/CITP, CGMA, is senior applications consultant at botkeeper.
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