Friday, December 30, 2016

Maximizing Google Search Part 1 - The Basics

I’ve decided to blog on the Google Powersearching course, a free online course that is self-paced. This post begins with the basics.

The point is to give short summaries of the course with useful links and links to the videos Google provides. If you want to jump ahead and get go directly to many of the Search features you can access this work-in-progress Google Slides deck, entitled “Google Search: Foster Independent Learners & Search Like a Ninja”. It is based on Google Search workshops I have facilitated and continues to evolve. The goal is to learn how to use Google Search with maximum efficiency. As Google states, you will “Hone your searching skills by solving complex search challenges alongside peers from around the world in this online class.” The skills you will learn here will give educators the tools needed to foster your students’ independent research skills.

These are search strategies to help the “searcher” zero in on the information they are seeking. They allow us to navigate the web much faster and more efficiently. On a non-US Google search page you can get “back to” by clicking a link in the bottom left corner, or by typing I’m starting with 1.2, the first “lesson” following the introduction.

Part 1: Starting with the Basics

Basically, when we do a search on Google, the engine gives us the results of the Google index, not the web. Google “fetches” the pages with software programs called “spiders” and follows the links connected to those pages. The importance of a page is rated by the number of pages linked to it. Essentially, the software asks questions about your search using your keywords.

Choosing the best words will give you the best results.

  • Use effective keywords
  • Put yourself in the mindset of the author
  • Think about what words you want to SEE in your search results
  • Use appropriate word choice (don’t use slang unless you’re looking for slang-related answers)
  • You’ll notice that the narrower you search, the fewer results you have

Word Order (video)
What are the factors that impact an efficient search? The words and the order count. Capitalization, spelling and special characters USUALLY don’t matter. Some do. Here is the “nutshell”.

  • A % sign at the front will be disregarded
  • Articles such as “a”, “the” will impact a search (the course video uses the samples “a who”, “the who” and “who”, which will give you “Horton Hears a Who”, the band “The Who”, and “The World Health Organization”, respectively
  • Some symbols / characters that will be recognized are ones such as “C#” in music, and “#hashtag”
  • Symbols for currencies aren’t usually recognized

This is a neat feature, which I think will be useful in seeking History images to reinforce teaching. In the bottom left of an image search there are colours that we can use to help find the context of the image. This set of colour boxes is called the “paint chip selector”.

If I’m searching for a WW1 period photo I may choose the black and white search function; I may choose “white” to get a white background.   
  • Colours carry an implied context, such as an old photo, or desert sand, or blue skies
  • Colour filtering is an effective tool to find the images you want, and get a wider variety
  • When choosing diagrams, graphs from a search query, use the white background to narrow down the options
  • Choose the “visually similar” link to narrow
  • Choose “similar link” to get similar-looking images

This feature isn’t new to a computer, but it is brilliant. I can see its use when searching through lengthy, archived historical sources that are online. The feature allows you to narrow your search of a page to a single word, jumping down to the word. Safari, Firefox and Chrome all have different “formats” but essentially they offer similar features to make your search faster.

  • Mac: Command + F
  • Windows: Control + F


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