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Googling 101: How To Perform the Most Effective Online SearchBy Ethan Baron
Posted: November 26, 2017 4:37am PST
It's no exaggeration to say that good Googling is an essential skill -- in school, in the workplace, in daily life. But unlike most of the other vital abilities we learn from parents, teachers and colleagues, when it comes to learning how to do online searches, we're largely on our own.
No longer. To help close gaps in the Google-search education we have all given ourselves, we reached out to an expert, a former senior support engineer at Google who now works as a search-engine optimization (SEO) expert at SearchBrothers.com. Fili Wiese has spent years working on technology related to online searches, and he has tips for ensuring the most useful and relevant search results.
We spoke with the Berlin-based Wiese by phone about how to search effectively, how to sort facts from fake news, and what online searches may look like in the future. His comments have been edited for length and clarity.
Q: When planning for a search, what should we be thinking about?
A: We need to sit for a moment and try to determine what we are trying to accomplish, what information we need and what keywords may be relevant. Often users skip this step and just type the first thing that comes to mind. Not that this is entirely wrong, sometimes it is nice to be browsing around and get a impression of what is out there.
However if you are goal driven for a search, for example to find trustworthy and/or relevant information about a product, then you need to plan ahead for a few minutes. Am I looking for a government source? Am I looking for a commercial source? If you don't know what success is you can go on forever, or quit too early because you think that you have it.
Q: What should Google search users know about how businesses, publishers, bloggers and others use SEO to try to push their content toward the top of online-search results?
A: Almost the entire web is about marketing -- marketing yourself or your products or your company. Most sites have a branding or commercial intent behind it. Users need to not trust everything blindly. I see too often that users blindly trust what they read because it was published online somewhere. Always treat anything you read online or in a book with a grain of salt. Don't just trust it because it is written down. Question it, its intent and its sources.
Q: Are there ways/techniques of searching that would help surface credible information as opposed to fake news, or is it just a matter of interpreting the results?
A: Half of the time we are consuming news sources that fit within our view, and that's the so-called "filter bubble." It is important to read opposite-arguing content as much as reading content reaffirming your view. It is very easy to read an article that reaffirms your view and stop questioning if this is actually true and how the statements may already have been debunked. You always have to use multiple sources and that includes multiple search engines. DuckDuckGo is an alternative. Bing is also an alternative.
Q: There's a big push among technology companies toward voice control of devices and apps -- is this a good way to search?
A: Voice search will grow a lot in the coming years. Especially the younger generation is fully adopting this new trend. The downsides of voice search are that we assume there is only one answer (the one we get) and we miss the opportunity to see additional results. Users may get accustomed to being satisfied with one answer, and in reaction stop thinking. Sometimes one answer is enough. If you say, "Take me to tickets for the Stephen Colbert Show," you only need one answer. In addition, for most voice-search hardware to work well it needs to continuously listen, waiting to be triggered to search, and this of course adds to the privacy concerns.
Q: What will be different about online searching in 10 years?
A: We are getting pretty close at this point to having a Star Trek computer, like in Next Generation, where you can basically walk into a room, say, "Computer, give me a list of this data, give me a list of that (other) data, cross reference it and present the results on my tablet." Artificial intelligence will be big -- with AI we're really going to the next step, where the AI can become a personal agent ... who is authorized to act on your behalf. A (virtual) assistant gives choices and you make decisions. An agent makes decisions. Your agent notices that you have a gap in your calendar which happens to coincide with a concert of a band that you like. The agent says, "I'm going to book you for this band, I'm going to arrange the transportation for you." You never asked for it but it's doing it for you, it's thinking for you.
Q: Is there anything else about using Google search that people should know?
A: It is easy to forget but the world wide web is in constant flux and continuously changing and updating. At any given moment the Google index is a snapshot of that moment, and the next moment new documents will have been added, edited and deleted. No search result is the same over time.
Tips for online search, from Fili Wiese:
Improve your search queries with double quotes. For example, "wildfire history," including quotes, will return different results than wildfire history without quotes.
To limit results to a specific website, put the information sought in the search bar, followed by site: and the website's address. For example, to get wildfire information from the U.S. Forest Service only, type wildfires site:www.fs.fed.us.
To exclude results from a particular website, follow the same procedure as above, but use a minus sign: wildfires -site:www.fs.fed.us.
Use inanchor: for very specific results from a broader topic. For example, if you want rankings of the best robotic vacuums, rather than general information about robotic vacuums, search the "anchor text," which is the text in blue that shows up in Google search results. Here's how to search for the best robotic vacuum: inanchor:best "robotic vacuum".
Use inanchor: with site: to narrow the specific results down to a single website: inanchor:best "robotic vacuum" site:consumerreports.org
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