I’m as guilty as the next person: I use Google for everything and don’t wander much outside it. (In fact, I use iGoogle as my browser homepage.)
But as any astute researcher knows, Google’s search engine can rank poor-quality content very highly just because the site has good SEO (search engine optimization). Recently, Google adjusted their search algorithm to help control for this, but the problem’s still there.
So I wanted to share a few resources to increase your awareness that stuff besides Google exists. However, you should also be aware of Google’s specialized search & data services, so those are also included.
1. Blekko is a specialized search engine that filters out a lot of the crap sites that have low-quality content but high search ranking. When you’re looking for quality content and want to avoid the content mills, try Blekko.
2. Wolfram Alpha has a scientific slant: It’s called a “computational knowledge engine.” There are a lot of things it can do, which are hard to describe and summarize here, so the best advice is to give it a whirl. For instance, here’s what Wolfram reveals if I type in my hometown of Oakland City, Ind.
3. The Wayback Machine shows you what any site looked like in the past. It’s a fun diversion, but of course a valuable research tool as well.
4. Snopes keeps track of Internet scams, hoaxes, urban legends, and misinformation. If you receive an e-mail, visit a site, or see a Facebook status that seems fishy, try searching for it here.
5. Quora is becoming a surprising resource for me on a variety of topics. It’s a Q&A site that many well-known experts participate in, and it’s easy to search. If your question isn’t already answered by someone on the site, you can easily add it. What really sells me on Quora (as opposed to some other Q&A sites) is the clean and easy navigation plus excellent credentials of those engaging with it.
A Few Google Tools
If you don’t know already about these specialized Google search tools, check them out:
- Google Scholar: limit your search just to academic/scholarly stuff
- Google Books: limit your search to books
- Google U.S. Government: limit your search to U.S. government sites
- Google CSE: create your own search engine that pulls only from sites you know and trust
- Google Insights for Search: search for information about searches!
- Google Public Data Explorer: a great tool for playing with and visualizing large data sets—your own data as well as public data
Also, if you’re not already aware, here are a few simple ways to improve your basic Google searches:
- If you want to exclude sites with certain terms, use the minus sign in front of the term (e.g., salsa -dancing)
- If you want to match the word exactly as you typed it, use the plus sign (e.g., +potatoe)
- You can use the wild card (*) to stand in for entire words.
- Use the tilde (~) in front of any terms when you want Google to search for that term, plus anything similar to that term (e.g., ~tutorial)
- If you want to restrict search results to a specific URL, then add site: in front of the URL. E.g., iraq site:nytimes.com would only turn up articles on Iraq from the New York Times domain.
- If you find a site and wonder if there are any other similar sites, use related: plus the URL of the site (e.g., related:writersdigest.com).
- To turn up results that are files only, use the search term plus filetype: and the type of file you’re looking for. For example, if you wanted to find PDFs on the topic of publishing, you’d search for publishing filetype:pdf. You can search for Word docs only (doc), music files only (mp3), etc.
What are your favorite search tricks or online research resources? Leave a comment!
Photo credit: Brain Pop UK