Answer any question effectively on Google

Being able to effectively search the web is an essential skill. While we all know how to use Google, Amazon, Craiglist, and Ebay, we probably aren’t all utilizing their search capabilities because we’re treating them all the same. Did you know that each website uses it’s own search rules, called parameters, as their language for search? This means you shouldn’t be searching on Amazon the same way you are on Craiglist or Google. What I’m going to try and do in this article is introduce you to the basic ways you can improve the way you search online.

When searching online, you should be treating each type of information differently. When searching for the best strategies to find cheap flights you should not be using the same language as if you were looking for the gestation period of Kangaroos. I’ll give you below my process for finding information online that I’ve been using for years. It respects the way various sites are geared to various types of information.

What type of information are you looking for?

Every website is a bit different. You should be searching for your information on sites that make sense for what you’re looking for. Here are my go-to’s.

For Opinion-based answers use forums and crowd sourced information sites.

My favorite sites, in order, are the following:

Reddit, Quora, Stack Exchange. I use these sites almost exclusively to find opinion-based answers.

Examples:
What is the best site to find cheap rental cars?
How long should I be exercising to improve cardiovascular health?
What are the best shoes for someone who has wide feet but also wants to look cool?

Keep in mind the sites mentioned above are communities. They do have biases and are not 100% perfect. They are amazing because they allow you to leverage the insights and research of thousands of other like-minded individuals for free.  Here’s what a typical web search on Google for me might look like:

  1. Best things to buy from Asian grocery store reddit

or I could do

2. Best things to buy from Asian grocery store site:reddit.com

The second query forces Google to only search Reddit. In most cases, however, #1 is sufficient to do the job.

Now, once I’m within reddit, I know the structure of the site (it’s super simple) and I find answer pages (called “threads”) that answer my exact question or a similar question. Then I will get an idea for the consensus of the community. This generally leads me to another site, link, product page, or whatever the relevant answer is. Just give #1 a try and you’ll figure it out pretty quick. Reddit is a voting based site so it’s very to see what the community consensus is.

For shopping queries, use Google Shopping

If you’re looking for facts use a powerful Google combo search

Here’s what I do. I always prefer to find facts from reputable sources. For medical information Pubmed is what the medical community uses. It’s a vast database of medical studies and findings. Pretty much anything your looking for will be on there. Otherwise, you should seek out information from the academic community. Universities produce the most consistently reliable and well-documented information on the web. In order to do this use Google Scholar.

You will be amazed at how much free material universities put online from their courses. You can find syllabi and read the same thing that Harvard undergrads are reading. You can find power-points and PDF files used in graduate MBA programs. All you have to do is tell Google what you’re looking for. While it would be impossible to give a comprehensive list, here is an example of the way I like to search.

For any academic leaning information append site:.edu to your Google search.

For academic presentations append type:.ppt to your search,

For documents append type:.pdf

Let me give you an example to let me show you why I think this is groundbreaking. I recently wanted to know what I should be reading to mimic the English Literature requisites for Harvard undergrads. Sure, I could use Facebook to see what they’re reading in their free time (that’s a separate post). But I want to know what their professors are assigning. Using this search literature intext:syllabus site:harvard.edu I eventually came upon this great course syllabus from Harvard. Now, if I was so inclined, I’d have 11 new books to introduce myself to World Lit as any Harvard student would. Best of all, I won’t have $200,000 in student debt to get it!

How to search better on specific sites

As mentioned before, each site has it’s own unique language for searching. Sometimes you’re just going to have to test out what works. Here are some helpful tips for better using site search that I’ve found.

Craiglist

In order to search for multiple terms at once, use a break. So, if you’re looking for bikes in Lower East Side OR Tribeca OR UES, do this: bikes “Lower East Side”|Tribeca|UES. This will search for bikes in all those places. If you don’t want to have any fixed gear bikes included you would do this search: bikes “Lower East Side”|Tribeca|UES -fixed

Ebay

Ebay uses a slightly different language. There you’ll want to search with commas.  Here’s an illustrative example of a search I have saved

men’s shorts -pleated -plaid -denim -surf -board (6″ Inseam,6.5″ Inseam,7″ Inseam,7.5″ Inseam) (H&M, “Land’s End Canvas”,Levi’s, Bean, Uniqlo, Zara, “Banana Republic”, “Club Monaco”,  Dockers, “Eddie Bauer”, Express,  Gap,  J.Crew, Crew, Missoni, Vans)

This finds men’s shorts that are not pleated, plaid, denim, surf-style, or board shorts. They will have specific inseam lengths AND they will be from one of the listed companies. In general if you want a search to include one item from multiple lists, you can separate them with parentheses like above.

Yelp

This is currently the best site for finding restaurants, but it’s still far from perfect. Look for restaurants with 4.5+ stars and more than 50 reviews. These places will be very likely to be good spots to check out.

I realize now after writing this that web search go have an entire book devoted to it. The most important thing is that you are using the proper search parameters while searching as well as being smart about what sites you are looking through for information.