Searching the web is a normal part of everyday life for most people. But not everyone knows how to do it effectively.
While Google has gotten much better at understanding search queries and returning the best results, you can still search more effectively with some tips. Here are the basics of proper internet searching.
Since Google is so popular, we'll focus on it here. But this advice applies to other search engines like Bing too.
First, we'll cover some simple tips for general searching.
Use Specific Keywords
It's important to remember that search engines operate by keywords. This is whatever you type into Google, also called a query. Once you hit Enter, Google searches its collection of web pages and tries to find the ones that best match what you typed.
Thus, it's important to use the most specific keywords you can to drill down what you're looking for. If you want to find instructions for adding your email to your iPad, for example, searching for iPad will bring up way too many results. A more specific search, like add Gmail to iPad, will have a much better chance of success.
You should also consider what kinds of wording the websites you're looking for might use. If you're looking for headache remedies, searching for my head hurts might not bring up useful results. A medical website is more likely to use headache.
This also applies to words with multiple meanings. If you search Google for date, it will bring up information on the current date, pages about the fruit, and likely sites about dating. Entering date fruit will bring more relevant results.
Know What Google Ignores
Google filters out unnecessary information from your searches. Capitalization doesn't matter, so you can search in all caps, all lowercase, or some mix. Additionally, Google usually ignores common words (known as stop words) like a, an, the, if, it, and more. Thus, email on iPad and email on an iPad will return the same results.
However, in cases of proper terms, stop words can matter. Searching for raven will bring up information about the bird, the football team, and companies by that name. A search for the raven, however, results in pages about Poe's famous poem.
Google automatically corrects basic spelling mistakes. If you make a mistake, you'll see a Showing results for link underneath the search box with the correct spelling. However, in all but the worst cases of typos/misspellings, Google will interpret what you meant.
Watch for Ads
For many searches, you'll see ads listed above the organic search results. These are always marked with an AD icon. Companies pay for these ads to appear when you search for certain terms, hoping they'll lead you to visit their websites. Be aware that clicking the first ad doesn't always bring you to what you were looking for.
Try Advanced Search and Operators
For most searches, choosing your keywords carefully will provide good results. But sometimes you need more control, and that's where Advanced Search comes in.
On the results page of any search, select Settings > Advanced search to access it. You can also go directly to the Advanced Search page if you like.
Here, you'll find many fields you can use to find exactly what you're looking for.
The top boxes let you search for exact phrases, any of a set of words, or exclude words from your search. Below, you can narrow results by language, their last updated time, and more. It's quite powerful if you can't seem to phrase your normal search quite right.
Google also provides shortcuts for these advanced search tools. In any normal search, you can use operators to narrow your results. Try a few of these most useful ones:
- To exclude a term, place a minus sign before it.
- Example: Amazon -river will exclude any results about the Amazon River.
- To search for an exact phrase, put it in quotes.
- Example: "Refurbished iPad Air 2" only shows exact matches for those words in that order.
- To search for multiple terms, place OR or AND between them (in all caps).
- Example: Pittsburgh Pirates AND Baltimore Orioles or Steve Jobs OR Bill Gates.
- To search a certain website, add site: in the search. You can also exclude a site by combining this with the minus operator.
- Example: ocean site:msn.com will search MSN for anything about oceans.
Avoiding Low-Quality and Fake Sites
Once you know how to search Google properly, the next step is determining the quality of the results it provides. There's no way to make 100% certain a site is accurate and unbiased, but there are a few areas to check.
The URL extension is a good indicator of quality. Nearly anyone can create a website ending in .com or .biz, but domains like .edu (education) and .gov (government) are only available to those industries. This doesn't mean that all .com sites are automatically suspect, of course.
It's wise to check the author of the article in question, too. Do they have a byline explaining their background and credentials? If not, that could be reason to question the information. Most sites that have some level of credibility also have a Contact Us page with information on how to reach them.
The overall visual quality of a site can also provide information on whether it's credible. Sites with sensational headlines, an abundance of advertisements, outdated visuals, and strange formatting may not be the best quality. If you're not sure about a website, Googling its name with trustworthy or similar can help you see if others believe it's biased.
Featured Snippets Aren't Guaranteed
Finally, you should be aware of Google's featured snippets and how they work. When you type a question into Google, it might show a small box at the top of the results. This contains automatically extracted relevant text from a page that it thinks will answer your question.
It's important to know that the featured snippet might not have the best answer, or even the correct one. In fact, Google ran into some trouble with this in 2016, when searching for Is Obama planning a coup? brought up a featured snippet from a conspiracy theory website claiming this was true. Thankfully, Google has improved the quality of the websites that it pulls featured snippets from.
However, Google has not hand-picked the sites in featured snippets as the best answers, so you shouldn't always take them at face value.
Searching Like a Pro
There are always more tricks to learn for searching Google, but these ones will get you started with more efficient searching. With the power to search the web properly, you'll be able to locate more information than ever before, and determine what sources are best.