search-tips-educatorsGoogle processes an average of 40,000 search queries every second. This equates to 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide. Do we utilize Google and other search engines correctly? Have you thought about ways to improve your Internet searches? In general, web literacy refers to the knowledge and use of specific skills needed to locate, evaluate, synthesize, organize, and communicate information found online. The application of web literacy skills enables opportunities for students to research content effectively.

The acronym S.E.A.R.C.H. is used here to demonstrate ways web searches may be improved by adults and children alike. These handy tips will enhance the way you “Google”:

S – Select Keywords

Regardless of the search engine you use, applying appropriate key words could help produce successful search results. Keywords should reflect what you want to know about a topic. A student assigned a research paper on the Alamo might try a keyword search such as “History of the Alamo” instead of just “Alamo”.

E – Evaluate Hits and Content

Initial search results may include commercial sites where businesses have paid to have a website rank at the top of the list. Many of these are labeled “AD,” but other popular hits may appear as well.  Evaluate the types of websites a search generated. Look for promising websites which will likely provide the desired information.

Content on websites must be evaluated as well. Evaluate the content of a website for accuracy. This may involve determining the author or publisher of a website. You can often locate a website’s publisher information by using the Whois? Database.  If a website’s content seems questionable and you want to know who owns the site or has published the material, visit

– Add Quotation Marks or Boolean Terms

Initial searches may result in over a million hits. Consider narrowing a search:

Quotation Marks

Use quotation marks with keyword phrases to ensure the words are searched in the order in which you type them. Ex: “blue whale”

Plus/Minus Signs

Use the plus sign to join words or phrases or to require common words (often ignored in searches) to be located: Ex: + which

Use the minus sign to eliminate words in searches: Ex: “juvenile diabetes” – type 2

Basic Boolean Terms

Using “or” actually broadens a search and may help find specific information. For example, digital literacy and web literacy are similar terms. If both are of interest, the following search may help locate information about either topics: “web literacy” or “digital literacy”

Using “and” narrows a search (but isn’t required in a search): “web literacy” and “digital literacy” and “information literacy”

R – Refine Results

A search can be narrowed further by using tools such as the Google toolbar, which enables Internet users to conduct advanced searches using criteria such as language, readability, file type, usage rights, and more.

C – Check the URL

Check the URL for clues about a website’s content. November Learning’s book Web Literacy for Educators presents many tips relating to URLs. Internets users must understand the domain and extension (.edu, .org, .com), find the author, and utilize many other clues URLs may provide. For example, the tilde (~) is a clue that the website is a personal page.


Students searching “octopus” may come across the following website:

In order to learn more about the author, delete everything after .net. What can you determine about the author? Is this website a valid source of information?

H – Hunt for Key Information

Wading through online text to find target information can be tedious. As you “hunt,” remember the following tips:

  • Skim text for important information
  • Examine multiple sources
  • Try alternative key words or phrases when necessary
  • Bookmark useful information (Try bookmarking tools)
The Department of Education at The University of Mary Hardin-Baylor is a recognized leader in the field of education and in the preparation of high-quality educators. If you’re interested in preparing the future leaders of our world, we encourage you to visit our website and schedule a campus visit.