May 5, 2011

Searching on Google goes way beyond typing in a few key words. And getting skill-savvy is actually easy. Here are some dazzling, easy ways to step up your game. These tips took me beyond my comfort zone to be more jazzed about online research. I hope this post will inspire you too.

So get ready for an exciting tour. Our guide is Sean Carlson, Google’s manager of news industry relations.

His job is to teach time-pressured, deadline-driven journalists to use Google more effectively and efficiently. Sean recently spent 90 minutes with my New School class. Highlights from his visit are below.


Sean Carlson at The New School!

Since there’s a lot here, I set up the post to be a treasure trove of Google-y goodies. Like any decent stash of jewels, you can rummage in this space at your leisure. Pick up whatever sparkles for you in the moment. Maybe you’ll bookmark this post; come back to it whenever you need more resources and ideas.  :)

Before we get to the specific Google tools, let’s start with three Googling basics…

  1. Don’t just search one simple word! Google prefers that you search a few words or a phrase. This narrows the search.
  2. Words aren’t case-sensitive! Google doesn’t care if you type in upper or lower case.
  3. Stop typing! Google tries to anticipate what you want. So it will serve up options while you’re typing. If it guesses right, click on the option.

Well, that’s it for the fundamentals. Now, take a deep breath. Okay, exhale.

Let’s dive in…

****A “minus” sign can quickly narrow your search****

“Help Google understand your intent,” Sean advised us. This means that if you type in a search for t-u-r-k-e-y, Google is wondering if you want info on the country or the bird. If you want the nation of Turkey, then tell Google to filter out references to recipes and the Thanksgiving gobbler. So refine your search by typing in: “turkey -food.” Now Google knows you want turkey, but minus the food links.

That space in front of the minus sign is critical to a successful search.


****The search section lets you set time parameters****

“Being able to refine your search by time can be really important, especially for journalists,” Sean said. On the left side of your screen is Google’s logo. Under it is a vertical column of options that function as a search-related tool belt.

Selecting a time period for your search is especially useful in tracking breaking news events. You can google for the “latest” news or results from the “past week.” If you simply want general info, then choose “anytime.”

You can search for the latest or oldest links & everything in between. Very useful.

****”Site Search” plucks info out of a specific website****

As Sean said, “‘Site Search,’ at its core, is a most basic and awesome tactic.” I totally agree! What if I want to find all references to Stephen Colbert on “The Daily Show” website? The neanderthal approach to this mission is to go to and type in “Stephen Colbert,” like this:

This is the DUMBEST, most typical way to search a specific website.

The result? gives me are links to a bunch of Stephen Colbert videos clips from past shows. But thanks to Sean, I am now smart enough to go to Google and type in: “Stephen Colbert”

Go to: “google site search” > type in your key words > leave a space > type in the word “site:” > then without making a space, type in the website that you want to search.

How did I live without this????

Guess what — all the videos are delivered in the very first link!

The first link gives you all the basic videos. Then you get much more…

But then, the search serves up much more useful info. There’s Colbert’s bio, threads to various chat forums that mention him, plus endless additional video segments. Just remember that the trick to this search is typing in the terms properly.

After the first link, there’s all kinds of good stuff.

On the right is what you get form searching “stephen colbert” within Compare that to the Google site search. Those same videos pop up in the first link. The rest of the search offers much more useful and varied info culled from

****Google Scholar offers a lot of research****

Google Scholar offers a way to search books, theses, academic articles and abstracts. To start, google “Google Scholar.” If we are interested in soccer in Brazil, we could continue by typing in “brazil soccer.”

The result pulls up more than just the documents. You can see how many times an article or paper has been cited — that could provide clues to its quality and relevance. This is what comes up:

There are many easy ways to customize the search.

****”Insights for Search” can create informative charts****

This feature is crazy! Don’t be scared by the clumsy name for this elegant tool. You can use it to figure out what folks are googling — and then, you can turn that info into a snazzy-looking chart.

Go to: google “insights for search” > click on the link > type in your search words > you can search for up to five different topics on a single search > set time framework for the search. Remember, you must define your search by topics, location and time period.

You can search up to five key word topics.

Let’s try a search: How popular is Mexican food in New York City these days? “Burritos” and “tacos” each get typed in as a search term. There’s no immediate room to type in “tortillas.” But when I click on “+  Add search term,” a new space opens up for me to type in “tortillas.”


From here, look to the top right of the screen and fill in the filters. What do I want — a search of the entire web? If so, click on “worldwide,” which presents the option to drill down the search to: United States > New York > New York. With that done, hit return to get a chart that provides an idea of which of these Mex food items is searched most often on Google. The red line for tacos is on top, a sign that they’re hot!


Note to bloggers: You can impress readers by embedding this chart on your post. Under the chart to the left is a link for “embed your chart.” Click on it, copy the code and drop it on the html side of your blog post.


What do these Google results actually mean? That’s for you to figure out!

****Google “Trends” tracks fastest rising searches****

Reporting and researching doesn’t always lead to clear answers. But like in all detective work, the more clues the better. And perusing Google’s trending topics never hurts.  Go to Google: type in “google trends” > click on “google trends” > type in your key words.

How about taking a look at trends for the hit TV show, “Glee?” I wonder how much intrest there still is in this program.

Let’s see what happens next…

With one click, “Search Trends” delivers two graphs. The top one charts the volume of worldwide googling for “Glee.” It also pinpoints moments when googling increased around the publication of specific news articles. The bottom graph charts “news reference volume,” which shows a decline in how often “Glee” is appearing in media stories.

Lots of material to mull over here. More reporting is required!

Hmmm. Even though the media is covering “Glee” less, there’s more Googling than ever on this show. What does it actually mean? To find that answer requires more reporting beyond googling. But at least Google “Trends” give us material to think about. (Btw, why is there so much googling of “Glee” in the Philippines??!)


Sean actually covered loads more with us. It was tech and sensory overload,  but in a good way. Just like you, we were left with enough information to go on and have our own future reporting/researching adventures. My New School class of a dozen students includes several documentary filmmakers, artists, musicians, teachers — plus one professional comedian. Look for them to get more google-y in their respective worlds. Thanks again, Sean!