We all know the Internet is a great source of information for just about anything we want to find. Need to fix a clogged drain? The Web will tell you how. Looking for the best deals on a new shrub? The Internet will show you best pricing.
There are however, big differences between using a search engine, and researching something and kids and adults alike struggle with the differences.
Search engines are software programs designed to search for publicly available information and return the results you’re looking for in an organized way in fractions of a second. Common search engines include Bing, Yahoo! AOL, Google, Ask, ChaCha and ixquick.
Search engines provide a text box where you enter the word or phrase you want to search on. That information is sent to the search engine, which has access to a huge index of information that has been tagged with keywords. The results you receive depend on how closely the word or phrases you entered match the keywords identifying the indexed results.
Search engines have tools that crawl the web following links in much the same way you surf the web. These crawling tools index the information they find —including the keywords used, any links to and from other pages, and metadata about the page.
Search engines then use this information, combined with information they have learned about you and your location to calculate what they think will be the best search results for your query. For example, if you always go to ABC pizza, then that is the result you may want to see first. And you only want to see the ABC pizza near you - seeing search results from another city or state really isn’t helpful.
There is a huge difference between entering words or phrases in a search engine and actually researching something. Search results are great for finding a movie, checking the weather forecast, seeing the price of an item, and so on. What search isn’t good at is finding the answers to more complicated questions or looking at multiple aspects of an issue. This is where research becomes important.
Start with an understanding that the results at the top of your search page are paid for by someone who wants you to see their information first. Companies know that you are highly unlikely to look past the first page or two of results – and you may not look past the first 2 or three results.
As illustrated in the image below, of the 17 million search results, these were the ones chosen to be displayed on the front page of a search engine. Why? It’s easy to see that there are ads down the right hand side of the page and at the top of the page. We understand that companies pay to get ad placement so this makes sense.
But how did the first three ’un-paid-for’ results get chosen? Why those three out of all the 17 million options? The answer is that these results have also paid to get this placement - but instead of paying the search engine for advertising space, they paid a search engine optimization company to get their website to best meet the search engine’s criteria for picking sites. Search engine optimizers know that search engines rank the value of web pages using a complex formula that includes how many of the search terms appear, the number of links to and from the site there are , traffic to the site, etc., so they work to make their client’s sites rank higher in the search results.
This doesn’t mean that a website near the top isn’t a great site; it just means as with all search results, you need to look at a few more factors to make sure the site is offering good information. There are four steps to a quality research process:
To know if a website is going to provide you with the best possible content look at a few key points:
Using a search engine you can find answers to just about any question you can think of - but it is important to dig a little deeper on some topics to find the right answers!