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Research on the Free Web Tutorial: C. Evaluating Google Results

The Google results page

A typical results page from Google looks like this:

1   Header 2   Search bar 3   Search results
4   Tools & filters 5   Ads 6   Bottom of the page




Go and read what Google says about the results page as well as their search results options and tools (seriously - we consider it part of the tutorial even though we didn't re-type it all for you).  Paying attention to the subtleties of the results page can help you adjust your search to achieve better results.  Since Google frequently makes changes to the results page it is best to read their up-to-date information directly.


How do you evaluate the list of results?  What do you click? 

The most imporatant piece of data you receive about the web site is the web address or URL (Uniform Resource Locator).  Deconstruct the URL to determine:

    • What type of entity is hosting the page? (the four largest domains are .com, .gov, .edu, .org.)
    • Who is hosting the page? (the first part of the address is the server name.)
    • Is there a subhost for the page (common for .edu sites and some government sites)?

In addition, the result text, which displays under the link, is either a description provided by the website or a brief snippet of text that highlights where your search term(s) appear on the page.  Although the result text may seem to be compelling, keep in mind what you've learned from the URL.  For example, a description that reads "Current research about cholesterol-lowering drugs" should be interpreted and valued differently if it comes from the National Institute of Health (Health agency) as compared to Pfizer Pharmeceutical (corporation).

Since Google has various search tools for digital content, and is trying to give you what it thinks you want, it often pulls in sub-searches from those other tools.  Thus, you might see a set of mini-results for news, images, scholarly articles, maps or more.  If those are what you want, go use those search tools directly so that you can take advantage of their search features.

What should you ask yourself as you skim these results?

Is it appropriate?  

  1. Is it provided by an established and/or reputable organization or person for the topic? e.g. or have their own discrete reputations and known biases, but is going to be a wildcard of personal pages.
  2. Is the domain (.gov, .edu, .org)  reasonable for your topic?
  3. Is the information from a single individual or an organization?  Does this matter for your topic?
  4. Can you verify the authority of the page provider(s)? (individuals can be more challening to evaluate).

Am I looking for the most current information? 

  1. Adjusting the date range (left side, tools) can tell you when the page was last saved, but not if the information is current.  For that you need to look at the page itself
  2. Recent references dates and active links (no broken links) are better indicators of an up-to-date web page than the last updated date (often automatically generated).

Does the URL imply that additional or more recent pages are out there? 

  1. Some URLs that include dates, parts, volumes, issue numbers or other things indicating sequence that may lead you to related material.  


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