The Great Google Search Paradox

“Just Google it” is a common household phrase these days. Everyone knows that if they need some information or any problem solved – or just to find the name of something that’s stuck on the tip of the tongue – the quickest and easiest method is to “Google it”. Google, the largest search engine in the world, has become a part of our everyday lives. I, for one, would feel lost without it.

 


google through the looking glass
The great Google search paradox

But how’s this for a paradox…? 

While business and marketing people constantly strive for better SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), hoping to be the ones that are clicked when someone “Googles” for an answer, fretting over choosing the right “long-tail keywords” and thinking “from our visitor’s perspective”, I keep finding in real life that people don’t search the way we expect. They don’t really know the best way to Google.

 

Some haven’t grasped even the basic concepts of search and search results. I know people, admittedly of late-middle-age (is that politically correct?), who have a business website but to see how they appear in search results they type their url into the search box. Then they think they’re ranking well because it appears on page 1! Or they worry about the spammy-looking results from urlspy and the like (which say their site is ranked 11 millionth) and how that might reflect on them.
 
I hear myself exclaim “Don’t worry, people don’t search Google like that.” Even though they’ve just shown me that “people” do… So then I say “But if they already know your url name, then all they want is to get to your website so they’ll click the first result.” Perhaps I’m wrong about that too…

 

  Other search behaviours I’ve seen include:

  • Searching on single words rather than long-tail phrases. Perhaps believing that phrases don’t work.
  • Asking complete questions, like “How do I find the best blue widget?” (This one gets catered for more often by SEO, with websites now phrasing headings to match, and Google matching “how to” queries)
  • Young people putting complete faith in Google and using the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button. Kind of a lazy shortcut, like text-speak.
  • And when results are presented, people so often choose the first one without reviewing the descriptions of other results.
  • They don’t necessarily understand that the highlighted results at the top aren’t the best match, but rather the best-matched paid listing, versus the organic listings below.

 

Each time I see another example of uneducated searching, I wonder why we bother with SEO. I think it’s time to educate the wider public about Search itself.

 

Hopefully the idea isn’t a lost cause, despite this gloom from Jakob Nielsen’s recent article at http://www.nngroup.com/articles/stagnating-expertise/ :

 

“…it’s an empirical fact — based on 3 decades of research — that users are narrowly focused on the present. What’s in front of them is all they know. What they’re doing right now is all that matters.

People don’t read manuals. People don’t go exploring all over the user interface in search of neat features. People don’t investigate whether there’s a better way of doing something once they’ve learned an approach that works.”

 

What is there to learn about Search?

 

Forgive me if I’m telling you what you already know, and what you may think are the basics. This is the “Google Search for Dummies” blog. But stay tuned, there are things you might not know, or knew once but have since forgotten.

 

I think even Google falls into the trap of forgetting that we didn’t all grow up using Google.  Google Search ain’t as easy as it used to be (you know, back in the “old days”…). As they’ve kept adding new features they’ve tried to simplify their interface – by burying the plethora of options available. It’s made search less simple to navigate.

 

Prime example: Not so long ago, there used to be a “Search pages from Australia” option shown clearly under the main search box. This is now hidden under the Search Tools button, and then you need to click “Any country” for a dropdown selection.  (That’s 3 clicks instead of 1)

 

I always use google.com.au, which gives higher preference to Australian websites by default, but know people who still use google.com (and maybe aren’t aware of its shortcomings).

 

Some Google for Dummies Search basics:

  1. If you need an exact phrase, put it in double quotation marks (eg. “right hand design”).
  2. Similarly, if you want an exact word (rather than a synonym), you can use the + sign in front of it (eg. +wordpress) or put the word in double quotation marks (eg. “wordpress”)
  3. If you want to exclude a certain word, use the sign in front of it (eg. web designer -wordpress).
  4. Restrict the timeframe of results using the Search tools button and Any time dropdown – this can limit news and results from the past 24 hours, the past week, month, year, or you can set a custom range (such as 2010-2012).
  5. Rather than asking Google a question, phrase your search using terms that are more likely used by the person who wrote the information. So rather than typing “Who can repair my window?”, search for “window repairs north sydney”.
  6. You can search within a particular website, even if that website doesn’t have its own built-in search feature, by doing a Google search starting with site:  (eg. healthcheck site:righthanddesign.com.au)
  7. Not only can you search for images that relate to your keywords, but you can also search for images that match one you already have. Say you’ve saved an image on your computer in the past, and now can’t find its source, just click the camera icon in the Images search box and upload your image. Google will list matching or similar images – voila!

This great infographic gives some detailed examples to improve your searches (it’s aimed at students, but covers tips that would be useful to anyone).

 

More Google tricks:

  1. Google’s built-in calculator lets you type an equation directly into the search box.  24*7 gives you the number of hours in a week. (24*365)-(52*24*5) is a complex way to discover the number of weekend hours in a year (quick answer: not enough!).
  2. Google’s built-in dictionary means you can type define:word to get a quick definition.  Try typing define: google – you might learn a few more factoids about the search giant while you’re there (You might need to remember them for your next trivia night – Googling things during trivia competitions is something that’s usually frowned upon.)
  3. Don’t bother bookmarking sites for world clock, or dateandtime, just go to Google and type time Munich and it will give you the current time in that city. Same with weather Sydney.

Don’t get too tricky… 

Another paradox: there are times when we make searches more difficult than needed. Say there’s a new movie out that a friend has recommended, but you can’t think of its name. Don’t wrack your brain and try convoluted searches – just type the single word movie into Google. Based on your location, the first listing will show new movies for your city, then probably IMDb and then the location listings for all the nearest movie cinemas around.

 

Good resources to learn more on Search:

Take it from the horse’s mouth.  Google provides these help pages, and more:

 

https://support.google.com/websearch/answer/134479?hl=en – covers the absolute basics on how to phrase your searches (as it says: “try words that a website would use  to describe what you’re looking for” – such as “headache” instead of “my head is killing me”).

 

https://support.google.com/websearch/answer/136861 – explains search operators such as –query to exclude certain words from results, or search for mentions only on government websites, eg. “New Years Eve” site:.gov.au

 

http://www.google.com/insidesearch/tipstricks/index.html – bundles together a bunch of search assist items into a nice friendly interface.

 

http://www.google.com/insidesearch/howsearchworks/thestory/ – this is a very visual, though slightly annoying, scroll-y page that explains how Google search works.

 

So, have I jogged some dormant memory cells? Have you learned anything new today? What other good tricks do you use in Google? Please share…

 

 

Author: RobynRHD

I’m a small business web design specialist with interests in social media and other online marketing methods. As my blog intro states: “Steering small businesses in the right direction with what I hope is practical, realistic advice and useful tips, amidst the constantly changing noise and hype. I’d like to help you sort out what you really need and how to go about it.”
I’m a proud Aussie, living in Sydney, and an avid fan of Column 8 in the Sydney Morning Herald.

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