All About Online Search

In this free lesson, you'll learn all about online search and what it means to use searching online to your advantage.

Introduction to searching online

Photo of man using a laptop

In today's world, more and more things are done online. Even if you don't consider yourself a computer person, you now need computer skills in order to conduct research, shop online, keep in touch with family, and more.

The ability to search for information online is one of the most important information literacy skills you can possess. By improving your search skills, you can find what you're looking for more quickly without having to sift through tons of irrelevant results. Throughout this tutorial, we'll give you some information literacy strategies to help you improve your searches and evaluate your results to find the most reliable information.

Watch the video to learn the right approach to finding things online.

A closer look

If you watched the video above, you know that with the right strategy you can tackle even the most difficult searches. Before we get into more specific tips, review these common misconceptions about using the Internet to search for information. We'll take a closer look at the facts as you progress through this tutorial.

infographic

Introduction to search engines

Search engines are specialized websites that can help you find what you're looking for. You've probably heard of some of the most popular ones—including Google, Yahoo!, and Bing—even if you've never used them.

logos for google, yahoo!, and bing

With these three search engines in mind, you may be wondering, "What's the difference?" They all have access to the same information (i.e., the contents of the Internet), so they should return the same results, right?

Not necessarily. Different search engines can yield different search results. Google is the most popular search engine because it's the most effective at finding what you're looking for. On average, it produces more relevant results than Yahoo! or Bing, and it's better at organizing and filtering them. For this reason, we will focus on Google in this tutorial.

Your browser's search bar is probably set to Google by default. However, if it is set to something else (for example, Yahoo! or Bing), you can easily change it to Google. To find out how, visit Make Google my default search engine on Google's support site. The steps are different for each browser, so make sure you follow the instructions for the one you're using.

Types of websites

When you're looking for information online, it's a good idea to be aware of what types of websites are available and what kind of information they contain. Depending on what you're looking for, you may find that certain types are more relevant to your search than others. Let's take a look at some of the most common types of websites.

Commercial site

Most companies have websites to promote or give information about their products or services. Although these sites often have relevant information, they are sometimes biased. If the site makes claims that seem too good to be true, see whether other sites support or refute the claims.

apple.com, a commercial website

Organization

Organizations, like other companies, usually have websites to promote themselves or provide information. Although they are not always "selling something," organizations often have an agenda, which may mean that the information on the site is biased.

macfound.com, an organizational website

News site

More and more people get their news online instead of (or in addition to) newspapers and TV. News websites are usually updated frequently, and older articles may be kept on the site for years. If you find an article through a Google search, make sure you check the date.

wral.com, a news website

Blog

Blog is short for web log. Blogs are usually updated frequently—sometimes several times a day. They are often a good place to find the latest information about a company, person, or topic (like technology). There are many different types of blogs, such as news, hobbies, humor, photography and more.

thefoxisblack.com, a design blog

Wiki

A wiki is a site that lets users add or modify content. The most famous example is Wikipedia, which is an online encyclopedia. The quality of articles in a wiki can vary widely, but well-written ones always provide links to the original sources where you can verify the information.

wikipedia.org, a wiki website

School

Many schools have their own websites. In addition to having general information about the school, the website will usually have pages that are written by teachers to supplement their lesson plans. While these pages often contain useful information, you should be aware that the website may also contain pages created by students, which may be less reliable.

a school website

Scholarly site

For some subjects, you may want to search for scholarly works (such as dissertations or articles for academic journals). To find these types of works, you can do a search at Google Scholar.

google scholar, a scholarly search engine

Databases

Databases are collections of information, often from different sources. One example is the Internet Movie Database, which is useful if you want to see all the movies a certain actor has appeared in.

imdb.com, a database website about movies and tv shows

Forum

A forum is a website where people can have discussions. Each discussion is known as a thread. The thread will usually stay on the site long after the discussion has ended, and threads will often come up in a Google search.

a forum website

Question & Answer sites

A question & answer site is similar to a forum, except there is more emphasis on answering the original question instead of just discussing it. Examples of question & answer site include Stack Overflow and Yahoo Answers.

stackoverflow.com, a question and answers site about programming

To see more types of websites, check out Google's Types of Webpages document.

Organizing your search

Being search savvy isn't just about finding information online. It's also about being able to save and organize the sites you've searched for so you can easily find them later. The simplest way to do this is to bookmark a site. Every web browser lets you create bookmarks (sometimes called favorites), and they also let you rename and organize your bookmarks. Even though it takes a second to create a bookmark, it can save you time because you won't have to search the Web to find it again.

Screenshot of Internet ExplorerAdding a bookmark in Internet Explorer

To learn how to create a bookmark, review the Adding Bookmarks page in our Internet 101 tutorial. If you use Google Chrome, check out Bookmarking in Chrome in our Chrome tutorial.

Cloud-based bookmarking services

One disadvantage of traditional bookmarks is that you won't be able to access them from a different computer. To solve this problem, you can use a cloud-based bookmarking service, which stores your bookmarks online. This means you'll be able to access them from any computer or device that has an Internet connection. Below are a few of the most popular services:

Generally, you shouldn't sign in to Chrome on a public computer, since it saves some of your data to the computer. Even after you sign out, other people may be able to access your personal data. For more information, go to Google's Why sign in to Chrome.