Using keywords

The words you type into a search engine matter – more than you might think. Rather than posing your search as a question, you can retrieve better results by adding a small selection of more specific terms. These are known as keywords.

As an example, let's say we want to find some information on pirates.

Google search of pirates

The search results include a mix of 'pirates', including sports teams, movies, illegal downloads and pictures of Johnny Depp.
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Adding keywords

If we were to include a few additional search terms or keywords, our results would be very different. But which words would be useful? You could try adding:

  • another concept (eg pirates baseball club or real pirates)
  • an alternative term (buccaneers)
  • a different approach to the question (Blackbeard).

It all depends on what you’re looking for.

So start with a few general words and build up to more specific terms, which tend to retrieve better results. Generally, the more keywords you use, the fewer results you get.

If you don't find what you're looking for, think about using other words or popular terms.

By asking yourself a few questions about what you’re looking for, you can target your search and save a lot of time. The information you need is probably out there – you just need to think about using the right search term to find it.

Search suggestions

Many search engines, including Google, have a predictive search function, which provides suggestions in the drop-down menu as you type. Choose a suggestion or scan them to familiarise yourself with useful keywords.

For hands-free searching, Google offers a voice function to carry out a search. Simply click the microphone icon and say your keywords. If there's a 'knowledge graph' panel on the right-hand side of the page (eg containing a snippet from Wikipedia), the voice-over function will read out the contents.


Go to Google and search for Sale. Now try adding some keywords.

Search for Sale Victoria.

Now try Sale Victoria accommodation.

How have the keywords changed your search?

Things to remember
  • Use a small number of specific keywords to refine your search
  • Take advantage of search suggestions

Let's move on to making sense of your search results.


Last modified: Thursday, 22 September 2016, 2:27 PM