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6 steps to being a smart searcher

November 12th, 2019

Search has been around for more than 20 years and we see billions of queries every day. Today I’ve already used Search to check this Sunday’s Giants’ score against the Jets, look up lyrics to Coldplay’s new song, and find out when daylight savings starts next year. But with so much information online today, the fastest way to find exactly what you’re looking for isn’t always obvious.

In my 14 years at Google as a research scientist for Search, I’ve conducted several studies to understand how people collect, organize and understand large amounts of information when they search the web. I also teach online and in-person classes to equip people with useful techniques for navigating Search. And because I think it’s so important, I even wrote a book: “The Joy of Search: A Google Insider’s Guide to Going beyond the Basics.”

There are six simple steps that I teach my students—people of all ages—to help them quickly find the information they are searching for.

Do one more search

Often people come to Search, see the first results on the page, and assume that’s the right answer. But one simple search on a complex topic may not be enough to uncover the correct answer to your question. Conducting two or three searches offers a number of perspectives and credible sources for a well-rounded view on the subject.

Check the credibility of your sources

When you search on the web, make sure that the site you land on is the best source of information for what you’re looking for. Consider the primary purpose of the website and ask yourself: What are they trying to help me with? What is their goal in providing this information? Does the information on the website align with other credible sources? Another way to check the credibility of a website is to look at online forums or discussion boards to see what other people are saying about the website.

Don’t include the answer in your question

You might search for something when you already suspect the answer. But including that answer in the query may sway the search results toward what you think the answer is. For example, if you search for “do golden retrievers weigh 85 pounds,” you may find “85 pounds” baked into the webpages that result from your search. Instead, search the “weight of golden retrievers.” This will show you a variety of results. From there, you can narrow down the correct answer by applying the credible source technique above.

Start your search broadly, then narrow it down

Begin searching with broad and fairly general terms about your topic. Then you can narrow your search once you find the most relevant aspects of your search. For instance, if you search for “how many teachers are in NYC” you’ll get a lot of results, but they may not be quite what you’re looking for. Then, try narrowing down your search by being more specific. Instead, look for the “number of kindergarten teachers in Brooklyn public schools.”

Mix and match your key phrases

Sometimes you have to try a couple of different query phrases to focus in on the information you want. Keywords are the most important words in your idea or question—they tell the search engine what you’re seeking. Ask yourself what words will appear on the page that would have the perfect answer, or how someone else would write it. A helpful way to do this is by “parallel browsing” to find a range of information that helps you get to the answer. That is, try different variations on your search in different browser tabs and compare the results side-by-side.

Explore other kinds of searchable content (Images, Videos, Books)

It can be useful to use Search’s other features, beyond just web search, especially when you want to find content that’s inherently visual. Suppose you want to find an example of how to layout a resume to find a new job; you may want to explore Google Images for example resumes and web pages with useful job search information. Or, if you want to learn how to cook scallops like your favorite famous chef, you can search through Videos for step-by-step instructional content. Or, say you can’t remember what page a quote is on inside your favorite book. Google Books lets you search for key phrases or excerpts within books, down to the page and paragraph. Use double quotes around your phrase inside of Google Books to find where it’s located within the text.

Using these tips, hopefully, you’ll shave some time off your next search.