Help for Simple Queries Only. Not for Advanced Queries!
To find the documents most relevant to what you need, construct your query as precisely as you can. AltaVista ranks the documents found so the ones matching the most words and phrases in the query are listed first. Even so, you might not find exactly what you want at the head of the list if your search is too general.
For example, suppose you wanted information about the languages of American Indians but you did not know any specific language to search for. You might start with the following query: american indian language. (The word-count numbers quoted here are not updated as new pages are indexed. They serve as an example only.)
For Simple Queries, AltaVista will rank the results based on a scoring algorithm; documents with a higher score appear at the head of the ranking list. A document has a higher score if the following hold:
You are therefore likely to find what you want close to the head of the resulting list of matches.
It is possible to restrict searches to certain portions of documents by using the following syntax. The keyword (link, title, image,...) should be in lower-case, and immediately followed by a colon.
AltaVista treats every page on the Web and every article of Usenet news as a sequence of words. A word in this context means any string of letters and digits delimited either by punctuation and other non-alphabetic characters (for example, &, %, $, /, #, _, ~), or by white space (spaces, tabs, line ends, start of document, end of document). To be a word, a string of alphanumerics does not have to be spelled correctly or be found in any dictionary. All that is required is that someone typed it as a single word in a Web page or Usenet news article. Thus, the following are words if they appear delimited in a document: HAL5000, Gorbachevnik, 602e21, www, http, EasierSaidThanDone, etc. The following are all considered to be two words because the internal punctuation separates them: don't, digital.com, x-y, AT&T, 3.14159, U.S., All'sFairInLoveAndWar.
Only the words in a document are significant to AltaVista. AltaVista does not index punctuation or white space, so you can use AltaVista to look only for words and phrases, not punctuation.
A phrase is a string of words that are adjacent in a document, although they may be separated by any amount of white space or punctuation. They do not have to be grammatical in any human language--they just have to occur in a document as an adjacent sequence of words. Some examples:
Since the punctuation and white space are insignificant to AltaVista (except that they delimit words), the phrases above are indistinguishable from the following variants:
There are two conventions for typing a phrase in a query. The best way, leading to the least ambiguity, is to type the phrase as "a sequence of words separated by spaces and surrounded by double quotes". However, as an alternative, you may type the words of the phrase with punctuation (and no white space) between each pair of words. For example, these are all equivalent as queries:
The first is the one we generally recommend. Be aware that the punctuation characters & | ! and ~ have meaning in Advanced queries, and * indicates the *-notation used in both Simple and Advanced queries.
Capital letters are considered distinct from lower-case letters. When a word is found in a Web page or a news article, its case is preserved when it is stored in the index.
When you enter a word in a query, therefore, it is always safe, and generally recommended, to type it all in lower-case, because lower-case letters indicate a case-insensitive match. If you type any capital letters, you force an exact case match on the entire word.
Thus, the word turkey in a query will match any of turkey, Turkey, tUrKeY or TURKEY occurring in a document. But the capitalized word Turkey in a query will match only Turkey in the document, and not any of the other capitalization variants.
Accents are treated in the same way as capitalization. An accented word used in a query forces an exact match on the entire word. For example, if you use éléphant in a query, you will match only the French spelling for the pachyderm. However, if you do not care to enter accents in the search window (something which is browser, platform, and keyboard-dependent), you can always safely omit the accents, thereby matching both the French and English spellings.
To search for occurrences of any of a group of words with a similar pattern, AltaVista provides the *-notation. For example, you might want to search for matches of sing, singer, singers, singing. In this case, place the *-notation at the end of the word whose inflections you want to include in the search: sing*. But, a word of warning. AltaVista will also match words lexically unrelated to your query word. So the query sing* will also find matches for singe, single, singular, and for foreign words such as French singulier.
The *-notation cannot be used without restriction. To make such queries computationally feasible, AltaVista requires that the * be used only after at least three letters. The *-notation will match from zero up to five additional letters in lower-case only. Capital letters and digits will not therefore be matched.
The *-notation can sometimes be useful for finding variant spellings: for example, cantalo* will find matches for cantaloup, cantaloupe, cantalope, and their plurals. But take care how you construct the query word. For example, if you want to find matches for both color and colour, a query of the form col*r is not the most efficient. This query will also find matches for collector and atomic collider. In this case, it is more efficient to submit the query colo*r, which will find matches for both color and colour.
Finally, if your search using the *-notation finds too many matches, AltaVista will ignore the query. The query inte*, for example, produces the result,
Ignored inte*: 4292323
No documents match this query
In the absence of any other information, AltaVista will index all words in your document (except for comments), and will use the first few words of the document as a short abstract.
It is however possible for you to control how your page is indexed by using the META tag to specify both additional keywords to index, and a short description. Let's suppose your page contains:
<META name="description" content="We specialize in grooming pink poodles."> <META name="keywords" content="pet grooming, Palo Alto, dog">
AltaVista will then do two things:
AltaVista will index the description and keywords up to a limit of 1,024 characters.
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