Suggestions for Getting Better Information in Online Searches

In January I will be giving a talk about online resources that are available for muscadines at the SE Regional Fruit & Vegetable Conference in Savannah, GA.  My presentation will be on where the best, most useful information about muscadines is on the web and how to find it.  Now, typically I use Google as my search engine of choice.  In the past I’ve used Yahoo, Excite, Bing, Internet Explorer, and others, but I found that Google best suits my needs.  One thing I don’t care for about search engines is that the top returns are usually not the best option.  Don’t get “most popular” confused with “best”.  Let’s look at an example:

I googled the word “muscadine”.  The top three returns were from, 1) Wikipedia, 2) Southern Living, and 3) University of Florida Extension.  The Wikipedia page is a thin description of the plant and some of its more notable health-related properties.  There is no discussion on how to grow muscadines at all.  So, if someone was interested in just discovering that muscadines exist then this page kind of fills that requirement, but there are far better web pages out there that do that.  The Southern Living page is labeled as “The Complete Guide to Muscadine” which is laughable and entirely misleading; although the author does refer readers to local County Extension offices to get more information.  This page is designed for the homeowner who has a vine or two and doesn’t desire to spend much time or energy on maintaining it.  The third page from the University of Florida Extension is undoubtedly the best.  This is a page anyone who is even remotely serious about muscadines should read.  But why is it only the third return instead of number one?

I don’t pretend to know how Google and SEO work.  For some reason, Google loves Wikipedia.  Unfortunately, the entries in Wikipedia are often incomplete or sometimes wrong or outdated.  The only time I use Wikipedia if it is on a subject that I don’t know a lot about and I find better links and references within the article to read.  So, what is a better way to search and find credible information?  Since I am in Extension and work with Fruit Crops and growers, my searches are mainly for information that has been scientifically tested and rigorously reviewed.  One way to find this information in Google is to put your search term in the search box (i.e. “Muscadine”) and then add “site”, a semicolon, and “edu” after it (for example, “muscadine” site:edu).  Although the search is not perfect (it misses some other good muscadine info on other trusted domains like gov and org) it does give one better options than just a general search.   You can also perform this type of search under the “Advanced Search” options in Google.  Another of my favorite tools is Google Scholar.  This also has some limitations but can help with finding actual journal articles on certain topics.  This can be found at scholar.google.com.

They key to using a search engine is trusting your own keen eye for poor returns.  The more one uses a search engine the more is understood about what kind of returns will show up and how to best filter them.  Sometimes a general search does exactly what you need, but other times it is a quagmire of junk that requires time and effort.  There are times I spend a monumental amount of time finding what I need because of the returns I get, but by using a couple tips like those I mention above, online searches can be more productive and less time consuming.

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