When you boil it down, a lot of what I do for a living is search for information; competitors, new technologies, processes, shoes… well maybe not shoes. And I’ve gotten pretty good at it, enough so that I’m often asked to google things for other people. Here’s my best take on what I’m doing to get useful results:
If you can do these three things, you can get useful results for most searches on common topics:
1. Read really fast. I don’t know if this is the same as speed reading or not, but the ability to skim rapidly for keywords is critical to being able to sort out what you’re looking for from the masses of link spam. If you don’t know how to speed read, check out lifehacker.com or similar for tips.
2. Start with the phrases you would expect someone to use. Whatever question you have, chances are someone else has already asked it on a bulletin board somewhere Actually type in a whole phrase instead of just a couple of keywords – often this is all you need to do. For example “how to create a site map” will get you much better results than “site map”
3. It’s a big internet, be specific. Start specific and then broaden your terms if you don’t get the results you’re looking for. For example if you’re looking for the best way to generate a site map for a large site “best approach to site map creation for a large site” is the place to start. If the first 5 results don’t contain anything useful, then try “best approach to site map creation.”
Just following the tips above should get you something within the first page of results. If that doesn’t work, move on to the next section.
When that doesn’t work
Sometimes I’m googling for stuff that’s a little more obscure or non-technical (my hobby is costuming, especially historical costuming).
4. Don’t stop at the first page of results If there are sponsored results at the top of the page, that often correlates to the first page is full of search engine optimized pages. Most of what I’m looking for is *not* from folks that spend a lot of time on SEO. Before giving up on a particular search, I usually scan all the results on the first and second page and then click to a page further into the results (10th or thereabouts). If there’s nothing close to what I’m looking for then it’s time to move on to the next step.
5. Find synonyms. Maybe you’re searching for the wrong words. Click on the most likely results you can find in the first couple of pages. Focus on things that look like bulletin boards or discussion forums. Sponsored results also come in handy here; people who are selling you something will be trying to use clear language. Skim those pages looking for synonyms. Now repeat steps 1-3 using your new search terms.
If all else fails
6. Try a different type of search. If you can’t get what you want from a standard google search, take the same thing to image search. People’s captions and diagrams are often quite relevant. Click through the likeliest looking images and scan the resulting pages… If that doesn’t work, try an abbreviated form of your search on twitter. Then repeat step 5. Until it works
Note: This was supposed to be an easy post – take something I’m good at, break it into steps, voila. But when I started dissecting what I do it’s actually more complex than it feels… posting it anyway in case it’s helpful to others.