It may not be something you reflect upon but, proper search engine technique can save you time and effort in finding what you really are looking for. Let me give you some advice when web searching.
When typing a search query you should go from specific to more general. Begin with Why are seahorses yellow and if you don’t find what you are looking for, expand it to yellow seahorses. You can also try and exchange words for their syllables. Hippocampus is seahorse in Latin and typing a search query for Hippocampus may generate a more specific result than just seahorse (you may find lots of fantasy animals and the like with the term seahorse). Many search engines also rule out too common words from phrases, which you also should avoid in phrasing a query. For example and is ruled out of web searches because the search engine already knows that you are searching for yellow and seahorse. Similarly, the plus sign many people use does not have an effect on your web search. However, the minus sign does; it rules out a search term that may be a frequent hit together with what you are after. For example, in searching for Hippocampus lots of hits on the area in the brain with the same name pops up. Therefore, adding -brain to your search will exclude any search result with that term in it, limiting your search to the seahorse instead.
Another way of specifying a search term is the use of quotation marks. Since search engines are designed to search for all terms you type in, they don’t always look for the specific order of the words you type. Instead, the returned results are based on a page ranking in the search engine. When using quotation marks you force the search engine to return results with the exact phrase. For example, searching for apes with apples may generate lots of hits but with the words in different places in the text of a website. ”apes with apples” will give you results with the exact phrase, thus easier to find what you are searching for. This is however hard to do, if you do not know an exact phrase to type in. Then you might end up with just a few or zero hits for that ”term”. In that case, typing without quotation marks may be better. Search engines like Google often store pages in their cache, so they look the way they did when they were last indexed by the search engine. If you press on view cache in Google, then you will see your search terms highlighted in the text. This is a highly effective way when you do not know what exactly to search for; then, you can see your search terms in a context without having to skim through an entire page.
Do not limit yourself to one search engine. Google is great but so are AltaVista and Yahoo! and each one returns a different set of hits for the same search terms. Becoming familiar with using more than one search engine may turn out to make it easier to search a specific thing with one search engine than with the other. Also, if you know different languages, try searching the localized version of the search engines for that term. Since English is the most common language on the net, you may return thousands or millions of results; yet, not all may be of relevance to your search. Think of using English as well if you are not an native speaker, you will find a broader spectrum of things with English search terms.
So, try out your new skills and be an effective web searcher!
Read more about effective web searching here: http://websearch.about.com/od/enginesanddirectories/tp/toptentp.htm
Find a Google cheat sheet here: http://websearch.about.com/library/cheatsheet/blgooglecheatsheet.htm