What Makes Internet Search Simple, Difficult or Impossible?

Every so often we've all had the experience of trying to find something that we just can't quite seem to nail down. You expect there's a web page out there somewhere in the billions of possible pages, but you just can't figure out what to do to make it pop to the top of the search results. Even more strangely, you've probably also had a frustrating moment of being unable to find something, then told a friend about it, only to have the perfect result show up when they did exactly the right query.

More than almost any other technology, search engines have transformed the way we do research: papers and results that were previously undiscoverable (or only painfully and laboriously discoverable) now have become simple and quick to locate. Where graduate students once slaved endlessly over a hot photocopier in library stacks, they can now run a search, locate the relevant papers, and all the papers those papers reference, and so on. The scholarship of research really IS different these days. It's not just simpler, but also broader and deeper. Given the same number of research hours, one can potentially reach much, much more.

Practicing search works! Like many expert behaviors, search is one that rewards skill-development, practice and attention. In our studies, we have shown that spending a modest amount of time learning the attendant skills of search pays off in much reduced search times and search accuracy.

For example, a crucial skill in reading a search-results page (indeed, any online document) is knowing how to Find a word on the page. In all browsers, this the Control-F / Command-F / Edit>Find function to locate a given word in the document. Surprisingly, our surveys show that roughly 90% of the US English-speaking population does NOT know this key skill. Once told about this, many search tasks are significantly simplified, and on long documents (e.g., that 150-page PDF highly technical monograph you're reading) the task of locating relevant information goes from extremely-difficult to trivial. This is just one example amongst hundreds that are dependent how skilled the researchers are on the Internet.

Everything changes... constantly: Of course, a key thing to remember about web search is that both the contents of the web and what search engines can do to process that content are constantly under revision. What this means for you is that search is a skill like any other. It is useful for professionals to pay attention to new content resources as they come online (that is, accessible through search engines), watching for new search capabilities (such as the ability to search real-time streams for breaking news on current events), and new ways of viewing the results of searches (timeline views of search results). There are classes, information streams and resources available for staying on top of what's going on. To be the best possible searcher, you need to make time to track these new capabilities as well as understand the entailments of what's possible.

"On the face of it you'd think that searching on a modern search engine such as Google is a pretty simple and straightforward skill. And mostly, you'd be right. It's the exceptions that are interesting."

Was this answer helpful?

 Print this Article

Also Read

The Impact of a Well-Designed Website

Your website signifies as your face to many prospective buyers who browse the internet. And it's...

Top Rule for Getting Internet Traffic

The number one rule to get Internet traffic to your website is to add frequent content rich...

Strategies for Online Reputation Management

Online reputation management is one of the most demanded digital marketing service in this year....

5 Important Reasons Why You Should Build a Mobile Friendly Website

In the Middle East alone, around 528 million people have a mobile phone, and this number is...

Affiliate Marketing for Beginners - 5 Tips for New Affiliates

Affiliate marketing is a great source of income. Engage your readers if you want to maximize your...


Our official partners