Using browser search keywords

One thing I spend a lot of my working (and playing) time with each day is my trusty web browser. Naturally I want to get things done as efficiently as possible, so it makes sense to reduce the time I need to spend on the most common tasks. One of these is searching.

Traditionally, a search engine was used by typing in the site’s address or clicking a bookmark, waiting for the page to load, clicking to select the search field, typing the query, and hitting Enter. That’s two separate page loads, and a whole lot of unnecessary mouse movement and clicking or typing.

More recently, browsers have started providing a built-in search box, into which you can enter a query and get results with only one page load. That’s a big improvement, but the box takes up a fair amount of useful screen space. If you use more than one search engine, constantly clicking to select between them also makes the process a lot slower than it could be.

Fear not: there is a solution which reduces the time taken for the entire search process to just a second or two! Mozilla Firefox calls this feature smart keywords.

To provide an example I use every day, at Anchor we use an internal ticketing system called Request Tracker. I’ve created a bookmark for it with the keyword “rt”. If I want to view, say, ticket #112358, I just hit Ctrl+T for a new browser tab, type rt 112358 into the location bar, and hit Enter. Minimal page loading, and no mouse usage necessary!

The feature in Google Chrome is pretty similar to that of Firefox. The setup for Opera seems a little more complicated, but hey, they probably implemented it first, right? :)

Internet Explorer is, naturally, a little more perverse. While keyword search functionality is actually built in to the browser (and called “search prefixes”), there’s no way to set up prefixes apart from editing the Windows registry. There also seems to be an almost total lack of documentation on the subject; the only official information I could find was this four-year-old blog post. Thankfully, it mentions that TweakUI (a very handy Microsoft tool also largely lacking documentation) will allow you to add prefixes, through a slightly nicer interface than direct registry hacking.

Finally, the Mac OSX browser, Safari, doesn’t appear to have anything like this feature built in, but naturally plugins exist to solve the problem. The best one I found is called Keywurl.

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