Online Search: Be the 2%

In the book Positive Linking, Paul Ormerod says that the top 3 items on a Google search account for 98% of clicks. The top 1 item, the top result that comes back, accounts for 60% of clicks.

If almost every click occurs in the first three results, Google could go as far as leaving just 4 results on a page and almost nobody would notice. There may even be a slight upward trend in users clicking that fourth link, “just in case”.

Four results to a page may even become a reality. SERoundTable reported that Google are testing that four result option, among other combinations.

One reason why so many clicks are on the first result is because many people search for a site through Google when they know the web address anyway. For instance, a Google search for Facebook is done a lot of the time instead of actually typing in a web browser.

When logged in to Google, you have the option to ask for more results per page. Check the preferences page to alter what comes through. I currently have Google set to give me 50 results to a page. If Google took that option away and only allowed four results to a page, I’d be hugely frustrated.

What if Google made every first search a 4-result page and made each subsequent page a 50-result page (or whatever you preferred)? I’d probably still be frustrated, because many of my searches rely on more than the first few results. I’d probably learn to live with it though.

Phil Bradley wonders if Google are looking to get more advertising coverage with fewer results to a page. Whether or not this is the case, this will impact power users than average users.

Keep on searching (photo by gerlos)

Keep on searching (photo by gerlos)

As a student, you should be a power user as often as possible. Go beyond the first few results. Be the 2%.

Try out different searches if the first one doesn’t help. I’ve been known to make subtle changes to a search, yet get wildly different results.

Learn some of the tricks to help you get a serious search on.

And, importantly, don’t rely on Google alone. Other search engines exist. And specialist searches help you find photos, social media, Creative Commons content, people, TV broadcasts, education resources, books, among other things.

Keep on searching. Don’t be too quick to give up. You never know what’s just around the corner.

10 ways to get better Google search results

Google is no stranger to us, right? You may even think Google is a bit too familiar

Google is probably a big part of your life, one way or another. But when it comes to that single box on the home page, waiting for your keyword input, what do you type in? A recent US study suggested that many Google searches don’t dig deep enough.

“Throughout the interviews, students mentioned Google 115 times — more than twice as many times as any other database. The prevalence of Google in student research is well-documented, but the Illinois researchers found something they did not expect: students were not very good at using Google. They were basically clueless about the logic underlying how the search engine organizes and displays its results. Consequently, the students did not know how to build a search that would return good sources.”

Rather than type a word or two in the search box and hope for the best, there’s a whole host of ways you can make Google find you far better results to suit exactly what you’re looking for. Here are 10 simple ideas to get Google working even harder for you:

1. Go beyond the first page of results

When Google returns about a billion results, you’re not even skimming the surface if you stay on Page One. Dig deeper. You may be surprised at what you find. Used with the tips below, it works especially well, because you’ll be getting more targeted results. What used to return a billion hits may now produce a million. Or a thousand. Or a hundred.
But even if you get a hundred results back, that’s still ten pages of Google goodness going on. If you ignore Page Two and beyond, who’s to say you weren’t amazingly close to finding exactly what you wanted?

2. Find similar words with a tilde (~)

With a WHAT!? The tilde looks like this:


Yes, a tilde looks a bit like a curly moustache.
But wait, its powers don’t stop at imitating facial hair. A tilde also tells Google to put a thesaurus to your word. For instance, if you search for “study tips”, you get one set of results. But search for “study ~tips” and you get results for study tips, study skills, study techniques, study guides, and so on.

3. “Use quotes”

When you’re looking for an exact set of words together, put them inside quotes so Google searches for the phrase in its entirety rather than as separate words. You can still add other words outside quotes.

4. Use ‘OR’ in your search

With a few interchangeable words in mind, the ‘OR’ operator lets you search for one or more of the words you choose. Sometimes you want to search a core topic, but with several separate sub-topics. By using OR between each of the sub-topics, you don’t need to bother with multiple searches. [Make sure OR is in capital letters, otherwise Google considers it as the word ‘or’.]

5. Use Google Scholar, Books, and News

Google offers other services that give entirely different results, which can be especially useful when you do academic research.
Google Scholar searches for scholarly papers. You can search within a timeframe, limiting the search to just the recent academic papers if you wish.
Google Books looks at content inside, you guessed it, books. When you need a juicy quote or want to read more about a technical detail, this type of search is great. You can also study a book before you even have the physical copy in your hands.
Google News looks at current events, making it great for relevant links about what’s happening right now in your area of interest. You can even set up email alerts every time new articles are published.

6. Search over a particular time

On the left hand side of your search, click on the text that says ‘More search tools‘. New options will appear to let you search the past year, the past month, the past day, even the past hour. You can also search a specific date range if you like.

7. Filter more

Also on the left hand side of your search, you can select various filtering options on your results. One good (though not perfect) option is to search by reading level (basic, intermediate, expert). You can also look at a search timeline, which can be hit and miss, but arranged differently to the standard search results.

8. allintitle:

Want to search for words that are so important they have to be in the page title? Just add ‘allintitle:’ before your search.

9. intitle:

If you want to search for a specific word in the title, but also drill down further with words that’ll only show up elsewhere on the page, add ‘intitle:’ before the word you require in the title of the page. Type the other words as usual. Google will do the rest of the magic.

10. filetype:

What if you only want to search for Word documents or Adobe Acrobat files? No problem. For Word files, add your search terms and include ‘filetype:doc OR filetype:docx’. For Acrobat files, add your search terms and include ‘filetype:pdf’.

These search tips are quick and easy, especially after you’ve used them a couple of times. But Google search goes further than that. If these examples have got you hooked, check out Google Guide for a complete overview of everything available at your fingertips.

Happy searching!

Research via Google alone: Are you crazy or just lazy?

Recent research has suggested that an overwhelming number of people think they can get all the information they need on the basis of a Google search.  The majority believe there is no need to probe further.  Now imagine, if 98% of people got by on a web search for their data, think how much better you could achieve if you worked in the other 2%, looking further than Google.

Even if you did one extra thing to boost your research, you’d be well on the way to producing a work with a more rounded research base and a quality bibliography.  You don’t even need to step away from the computer if you don’t want.  Many academic libraries subscribe to hundreds (if not thousands) of specialised journals and you should be just a couple of clicks away.  Your library website and departmental webpages should help you find the treasure.  If not, ask a librarian.  It’s what they’re there for!

Maybe a lot of students think the web search really will provide all the details they need to get on with their work.  Or maybe they think it’s enough to get by and believe any extra work would take too long and wouldn’t produce enough extra credit.  Either way, a lot of you are missing out.  And it doesn’t take a lot of extra time to get a much greater return.

It’s more about walking a couple more yards than it is going the extra mile.  There’s no excuse to scrimp on effort, because it doesn’t take a lot to bring everything into play.  Unfortunately, when you start with the bare minimum of work, you’re likely to build a false belief that any extra work will bog you down completely.  It only takes a couple of goes at sourcing more information to find that the reward for a few minutes extra work can be worth a bomb.  So get to it!

If you want more help on how to take your research further with ease, I have 16 ways to help you with your research in the archives.

And if you’re really interested ( or need help sleeping… 😉 ), you can read more of my thoughts on Google versus libraries if you want.

Google vs libraries? Do we face an information dream or nightmare?


sunset_directions (photo by saavem)

I was an early adapter to the Internet.  I was dialling up to Bulletin Boards and sending off for underground magazines on floppy disc before the internet as we know it was around.  And in the infancy of ‘the Web’, when it meant little more than something spiders created, I was telling everyone at school how amazing the Internet was.  You could chat to people around the world, find information on your favourite band, get detailed information to help with homework, look up the most amazing jokes, and a million other things!

None of my friends really cared at the time.  But in a flash, the Internet was THE big thing.  Fast forward to today and now it’s simply the norm.  We take it for granted, despite its relative newness.

As we have speedily adapted to this new way of life, has the internet replaced more traditional sources in terms of ease and accuracy?  The 5th June edition of Times Higher Education discussed ‘the Google generation’, wondering if we have become too dependent (and Google-eyed) on the online search beast.  Has the ease of finding information led to less critical thought and innovation, at a time when you’d rather expect the free flow of data to open up new possibilities?

I recently found a fantastic article from the site Publishing 2.0:

What newspapers still don’t understand about the web

After reading, I thought it’s no wonder most of us use Google as the first (and often only) port of call for information.

And in terms of academic research, going as far as Google Scholar (still Google!) and Wikipedia isn’t exactly breaking out into a secret world of exclusive information.

Google clearly does have a huge scope.  You’d be mad not to use it.  I do so frequently on a daily basis.

The problem is when we rely almost solely on just one resource.