Read search results before clicking

If I had my druthers, a long-running topic of debate would focus on whether the effects of executing “just Google it” is beneficial or detrimental to our cognition. Just like how coffee/caffeine used to be considered good for you, then bad and then good again recently.

Thus I make my own judgment calls and practice accordingly. For example we continue to teach our son to use a traditional dictionary, instead of Googling a word he doesn’t know. I admit, it is easier to type or dictate a question into the browser and out come the answers ranked in relevance to the question.

Just like anything else the digital world has to offer, we need to be vigilant and practice good usage habits – akin to street smarts – before clicking on a search engine result. Failure to do so increases the chance of becoming a victim in the digital world that has real-world consequences (such as robbing your hard-earned cash).

Search engines from Google, Yahoo!, Bing and others track, collect and create a profile docket from your search engine usage and browsing habits. Except for Personally Identifiable Information (or “PII” for short; any data that could be used to identify, locate or contact you), they use the information to sell ad spaces.

It’s not coincidence that you see ads for new cars when you are researching a car – these are called “targeted ads.” The same is true when you are using a free email account. Here, the providers will scan your email content, minus the aforementioned PII, and show targeted ads in a similar fashion.

But weren’t these services “free” in the first place?

There is no such thing as a free lunch, and that applies to search engines, emails and most of the other "free-to-use" services in the digital world. The currency is your information instead of greenbacks. This is how the search engine companies make money off of you under the auspices of the providing free services. From the advertisers’ perspective the efficacy of these targeted ads is higher than other mediums due to the ads’ relevance to your specific interests instead of the general readership.

Search engines rank the search results by relevance to the search terms, which is computed in different ways by different search engines. Portions of these formulas are closely guarded secrets, analogous to Coca-Cola or Kentucky Fried Chicken recipes, that are competitive advantages for each company. As such, sometimes the results may not be ranked in the most relevant order and that can lead you astray.

The tip here is to simply read the search results carefully before clicking on any one of them. Although most search engines are getting better at raising the relevance factor, due to the nature of these formulas being proprietary there can still be instances where the highly ranked result may not be what it says it is. Knowing this and acting accordingly is being internet street smart!

Tak Sato

Business and technology strategist/consultant with 25 years of experience. Holds Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Science and MBA from Cleveland State University.

As founder of geek with a heart, "Hand-holding You in the Digital World", Tak helps Individuals, Seniors, Families, Small Businesses, Schools, and Non-Profits utilize appropriate technology in their personal and professional lives.

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Volume 7, Issue 23, Posted 9:46 AM, 12.01.2015