The number of ‘results’ or ‘hits’ returned from your search query depends on a number of factors. These include the list the search engine used, the choice of keywords or criteria entered, the spelling and grammar, the language, how you combine words in the query, whether Boolean search operators such as AND, OR or NOT were used, and whether you specifically instructed the program to include or exclude certain words.

As you can see, it is important to construct your query as precisely as possible. The following tips will help you to save time and money when you are searching.

If you enter two or more words without further instructions, you will be presented with a list of results pointing to web pages which contain any of the words you have entered, resulting in a search for ‘apple farms’ for example, will return pages containing the word ‘apple’, as well as those containing the word ‘farms’ (and of course, those containing both words).

Boolean operators

The most common Boolean operators are AND, OR and NOT. Using ‘AND’ between two keywords means that the web pages must contain both words. The ‘OR’ operator between the keywords means that the web pages can contain either the one word or the other (or, of course, both). The ‘NOT’ operator means that the web page must contain the one word and not the other.

Exact phrase matches

If you place the phrase in inverted commas, “apple farms”, you are telling the search engine to regard it as a single entity (with the exact same capitalisation and spelling as you have entered) and only pages that contain the exact phrase will be returned to you.

Must include/must exclude

If you place a ‘+’ or a ‘-‘ in front of words (no space between the word and the sign), you are telling the search engine that the resulting web pages must include the words with a ‘+’ in front of them and must exclude all those with a ‘-‘ sign in front of them. A search for ‘apple +farms -cider’ for example, will search for pages which mention ‘apple’ and ‘farms’, but which do not include the word ‘cider’ in them.


If you place an asterisk behind a word, you are saying that you want all derivatives of the word to be included in your search. For example, farm* will result in hits on the words ‘farmer’, ‘farmers’ and ‘farming’.

It is a good idea to enter your search in lowercase, as some search engines are case sensitive.