Key to searching online: simple, straight forward

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 July, 2011, 12:00am


Google scientist Dan Russell knows a thing or two about internet searches. Yet he isn't just interested in how to ferret out useful bits of information on the net. He sees himself as an online anthropologist who spends most of his day studying how other people search the internet and what problems they encounter while doing it.

From there, he takes his findings to engineers who turn that data into improvements in the way Google operates.

'People not as practised in using Google often will get stuck and won't be able to find an answer to a question that they have, whereas a more skilled searcher can dig up an answer, ' Russell told Young Post in a phone interview from California, in the US. 'What that does is it allows good searchers to become superior students, because they can find material that's more authoritative, interesting and more complete.'

Russell says the key to effective searches is to keep the query short, simple and straightforward. 'You don't want to use long expressions, sentences or questions, and you don't need to use very technical language,' he said. 'If you just describe the thing you're looking for in the simplest sort of way, that'll give you the result you want.'

Once you have the query down, Google has built in options to filter your results. The tabs to the left of the page allow users to narrow the type of information that will be returned.

For example, if you're searching for news articles, then you'd click on the News tab. By clicking on Discussions, you get all the results of what's been said about your query in different online forums. The Books tab will generate published content from books.

With millions of websites out there, you're bound to run into suspect ones. It can be tricky to verify that you're getting your information from a credible source. Russell suggests three rules of thumb to determine whether the information is reliable.

First, you should never take information from just a single source. Look for multiple websites when gathering information on a topic.

Second, you should take a look at who runs the website and why. You should always be wary of sites that want to sell you something or have a clear bias.

Third, be cautious of a site that never admits to an error or updates information to reflect recent findings on a subject.

The inner workings of Google's search platform is nothing short of spectacular. Behind the scenes, its programs crawl the web. They browse each page of a website, noting its text and remembering images.

The program then creates an index - like that in a book but infinitely larger. When you type in a query, Google compares those terms to words in its index and determines the best possible matches based on a number of factors.

A lot of times the results will blend different kinds of information. 'So if you type in Eiffel Tower, we'll display the official page [up front] but also news about it or maybe images of the Eiffel Tower as well,' Russell explained. 'We're constantly trying to bring in different information resources from all over the web.'