Google is magic. Life before Google stunk. You had to work the Yellow Pages, make phone calls, visit a library, stop at store after store to find the exact product you sought. What once could take hours now takes seconds. But using Google isn’t without its risks. Here are tips to make your searches effective and safe:
1. Know which links are ads, and which aren’t. Until a couple of years ago, Google placed most of the paid advertised websites on the right side of search results. Search results and paid ads were clearly separated. But then Google moved the paid ads to the top of search results. Now the only way to tell if a result is an ad is by looking for a tiny square box at the front of the result marked “AD.”
2. Don’t stay on the front page. Dig deeper.
3. Do a thorough search before buying something or hiring someone. For products, try the manufacturer, the model number of the product and the name of a store (Frigidaire model 39-A at Best Buy and complaints). For a service, use the company’s name and location plus key words (John Doe Plumbing of Fridley).
4. Pay attention to the “Search terms related to …” They might contain important information.
5. Be suspicious. Although Google has made improvements, scammers still know how to game the setup.
6. Don’t forget the “News” tab. That search often brings up more recent information on the subject.
7. Auto-complete is a favorite. Go to the magic search box and type in the start of your query and see what choices pop up. The words that automatically fill in are indicative of what most people are asking.
8. Use private browsing. If you’re signed into Google, it knows who you are and where you live and delivers search results accordingly. To hide your identity from Google, use the private browser. In Chrome, it’s called Incognito. In Safari, it’s called Private Window. In Firefox, it’s called Private Browsing.
9. Remember that Google has competitors. Check out Microsoft’s Bing or DuckDuckGo.
10. Google tries to keep you by answering common questions on its main page so you don’t click away. The Knowledge Panel often contains what you need to know.
11. Use the minus symbol before a word to exclude that word from search results.
12. Pay attention to how you arrange your words. “Dog chow” and “Chow dog” bring up very different results.
13. Google loves to return Wikipedia results high. But false information has been planted on the site. If you rely on Wikipedia, scroll down to the list of sources for an article to make sure they carry authority.
14. Use a colon to search a particular website. For example: dallasnews.com: dave lieber watchdog column and property tax.
15. Question Google’s results. Who is behind the website? What’s their motive? Is it really a consumer information site? Or is it a front for a specific company?
16. Finally, don’t forget your human search engines. They are called librarians. They know how to find stuff better than almost anybody. Your taxpayer dollars help pay for reference librarians at your neighborhood public library. Don’t be shy. They are there to help.