> Unfortunately, all ~initial~ searches from tree
> individuals are initially global and either ranked or by
> database, depending on how one's prior search was
> configured. It is not possible to define the search
> parameters before doing the initial search-from-tree.
I fully realize that there are many, many successful approaches to using the ancestry.com search engine and that the successful approaches can vary widely. I've seen demos of ancestry.com in genealogy classes that look so different from what I do that I would swear that the instructor wasn't even using the same search engine that I use every day, and yet the instructor is getting good results from his or her searches.
Having said that, I'm not sure I understand the comments I quoted above about doing initial searches and setting up the initial search parameters. Let me describe what I do, and maybe you can explain things again by relating the approach I take to the approach you take.
First of all, I always use exact search. Well, maybe once a year I will try ranked search again after hearing a success story from someone who uses it, just to see what I'm missing or to see if maybe it's improved since the last time I tried. But so far, every time I try to kick the football again, Lucy jerks the football away at the last second as always. In other words, every time I try to use ranked search again the results are always an abject failure for me as always. Maybe some day that will change.
Second of all, I usually start with a global search. My basic opinion is that the most effective searches are against specific databases, not global searches. So why do I usually start with a global search? It's because I always use the option to display the results "Summarized by category". So the purpose of my initial search is not to find a list of individuals. The purpose of my initial search is to find a list of databases. And the databases can vary from things like census images and courthouse marriage record images all the way to trees compiled by ancestry.com members - all from the same initial search.
For example, the state I search the most is Tennessee and I have the great, good fortune that ancestry.com has a database of images of courthouse marriage records for most Tennessee counties. The easiest way to get there is to do a global search for John Doe (or whatever his or her name is) with some number of filters. Depending on the person's name, I might use wildcards or some of the "phonetic" or "similar" options for the name. I would specify that the event was a marriage in Tennessee, and often I would give an estimated year, +-5 or +-10. By the way, New Search really needs +-20, which is something that Old Search had. And for this search, that's about it. Such a search will usually yield a few hits in the Tennessee marriages database and a few hits in the trees.
I could give numerous other examples, and the exact setup of the search is essentially the same no matter what you are looking for. The same idea works to find data in trees, to find census information, to find death records, etc.
My technique doesn't work well to find data that has been OCR'd and indexed by keyword. But I don't think any technique works well for such data. Newspaper collections are darn near unsearchable with any technique. City Direcory collections are searchable, but it's extremely hard. You pretty much have to know the exact city and year, and go to that particular city directory.
I said I always do exact search and that I usually start with a global search (probably more than 95% of the time). The exception on starting with a global search is that sometimes it's better to go to the Card Catalog and find a particular database. But that doesn't change the philosophy. The philosophy is to find one or more databases and search within them with exact search. The initial global search is one way to find a list of databases within which to search. The Card Catalog is another way to find a list of databases within which to search.