WARNING: When you’re finished reading this post, your search habits will never be the same.
Let’s face it. In a moment of weakness, all of us have typed a lazy, less than thoughtful phrase with hopes that Google will do all of the work for us. Just the other day, I caught myself searching Google for “mountain bikes.” I have only my laziness to blame for the 19,700,000 results that Google gave me.
If you search like 99% of the population, your searches consist of a quick phrase or keyword. Once you click search, you look at the top results (usually the top two or three), and hope that you find what you’re looking for. Take a quick look at Google Trends, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
At various points of time, you may have wondered why the search engine can’t just give you what you want. Well, it can. You just need to invest 15 extra seconds of effort.
Example One – The “Average Joe” Search
Search: king tutankhamun
What’s Happening: Google is searching for pages that contain these words. The words don’t have to be together, they just need to be somewhere on the page.
Analysis: Very ineffective
Example Two – The Somewhat-Refined Search
Search: “king tutankhamun”
What’s Happening: Google is searching for pages that contain the EXACT phrase “king tutankhamun”
Analysis: An improvement on example one, but nothing to write home about
As you can see, the first two searches are rather basic. Now it’s time for the good stuff. In order to have a targeted, effective search, you need to take a few seconds to think about what you’re really looking for.
Since I teach World History, let’s pretend I want to develop a lesson on King Tutankhamun. Before I develop my own lesson plan, I want to see how other teachers have covered our famous Egyptian friend. Now I can be intentional.
Example Three – The Intentional Search
Search: “king tutankhamun” AND “lesson plans”
What’s happening: Google is searching for pages that contain BOTH of these phrases.
Analysis: Effective. Google gives me relevant results.
Don’t worry, it gets better. Let’s assume I’m teaching an Honors Level World History. I want Google to give me quality results that I can trust. I don’t want someone’s napkin drawings of King Tut (unless that someone happens to be Ray Allen or Kevin Garnett). In fact, I’d prefer something scholarly to challenge my students.
Example Four – The Intentional Search Restricted to a Top-Level Domain (TLD)
Search: “king tutankhamun” AND “lesson plans” site:.edu
Results: 84 (not bad!)
What’s happening: Google is searching for pages that contain BOTH of these phrases. However, now Google is limited to searching only .edu websites. That means all of my results are coming from colleges or universities.
Analysis: Google gives me quality results from a top-level domain. If I don’t find what I’m looking for, I can try other TLD’s like .org, .gov, .museum, etc.
We can take this even further, but you get the idea. My advice: Learn to query intelligently, and force Google to work for you. If you don’t want to type the query yourself, use Google’s “advanced search” feature.
If you have some Google tricks you’d like to share, feel free to post them below.
On the lighter side of things, here’s some classic inspiration from Steve Martin.