Using GoogleSearch Time-Effectively

A few tactics can improve your use of information’s preeminent harnesser.

Posted Dec 24, 2016

Google.com, Public Domain
Source: Google.com, Public Domain

If knowledge is power, Googling is nuclear power. GoogleSearch makes so much of the world’s knowledge instantly available, for free.

But not everyone searches effectively. Candidly, I’ve had clients show me the results of an hour of their Googling a topic and I was able to get more on-target information in just a few minutes.

Of course, Google offers a tutorial on GoogleSearch but it teaches rules and principles. My clients have found it helpful to learn inductively, that is, for me to demonstrate by example.

So here’s how I’d GoogleSearch to get information on new treatments for depression

Carl Norring, CC 2.0
Source: Carl Norring, CC 2.0

While typing [new treatments depression] into GoogleSearch, its search-term-completion feature suggested related search terms. I scanned those, ignored terms like “new treatments depression 2012.”) but was intrigued by “depression ketamine,’" “depression glutamate,” and “Australian breakthrough.” But before checking those, I wanted to see the search results on [new treatments depression.]

I give particular attention to the first few search results because I’ve found Google’s search algorithm so good that those first few results, certainly the first page of results, are very likely to contain all the good information I need.

In this case, the first result said that anti-cytokines (a high-powered anti-inflammatory) offers promise.

The second result was a TIME article that cited evidence for Behavioral Activation, a form of brief counseling that simply helps the client to plan  pleasurable and productive activities and learn to follow through on them.

The third result was a PsychCentral article that found that, in very early trials, ketamine, which works on glutamate receptors, holds real promise. Ah, “ketamine “and “glutamate.” That explains why those terms appeared in the search-term completion suggestions.

The fourth result was from MedicalNewsToday.com. It reported that Northwestern researchers have had success with a protein called Noggin in reducing depression in rats.

I didn’t even glance beyond those first four search results because those are generally the most valid and I had found enough new search terms to work with. I try to search time-effectively.

But before doing searches on those treatments: anti-cytokines, Behavioral Activation, ketamine, and Noggin, I was, curious to see what that hypey term “Australian breakthrough” referred to. So I Googled it, with those words in quotation marks so Google would report results only that included those words when adjacent to each other. To further ensure my search’s relevance, I added the word “depression” so my search term was [“Australian breakthrough” depression]  The first result was from an alternative nutrition site I had never heard of (a minus in credibility) and when I clicked on it, it didn’t even open. So I made the judgment that it wouldn’t be time-effective to pursue that further. None of the other research results on that first page were relevant, so I dropped it.

Then I googled [“anti-cytokine” depression.] I scanned the page of search results. The result I found earlier came up first and the others, dated around the same time (Oct. 2016) seemed to be citing the same research. That meant to me that there really has been only one promising study, not enough to consider it for clinical use. But that first page of search results were mainly from authoritative sources: Nature, National Institutes of Health, Medical News Daily, and TIME. So, over the coming months, I’d periodically search on [“anti-cytokine” depression] to see if there were more positive studies.

Next, I googled [ketamine depression}  The first result was a WebMD article from 2014. Its being almost three years old made me nervous. Other results on that first page of results are from 2016 and a source of optimism. A number of ketamine advocacy groups were listed and, NIH is doing a first set on human trials.

I googled [“Behavioral Activation”] depression] and the search results were all older. There was no sign that it had taken hold as a treatment of choice.

I googled [Noggin depression]  As with [anti-cytokine,”] all the first-page results were published within days of each other and referred to the same study, which was only a first study with mice. Again, a long way from clinical use.

What’s also important is what my Google searches didn't reveal. A few years ago, I had heard of promising early trials of brain stimulation to address depression: vagus nerve stimulation, transcranial stimulation, and deep brain stimulation, but those didn’t appear in today’s search results. To validate those treatments’ descent from the first tier of promising techniques, I searched on  [brain stimulation” depression] and it the results of later trials have been mixed---Some patients show very good results, many don’t. And side effects can be significant. And even in successful patients, ongoing treatment may be required. That said, a new article in Psychology Today citing new research suggesting that transcranial stimulation may indeed help older adults with Alzheimers or cardiovascular dementia.

All of the above Google searching took 20 minutes and gave me enough to work with, whether I was writing an article or seeking treatment.

I showed a draft of this article to a fellow PsychologyToday.com blogger, Dr. Michael Edelstein, and he asked if I’d answer a few questions he had about Google Search:

  • Are there ways to exclude, as well as include, terms and under what conditions would this be used? Yes, for example, [depression AND ketamine] would ONLY return results with both of those words in proximity. But I’ve found that simply using {depression ketamine] gets me virtually the same result, so I don’t bother. More helpful is the NOT command. So [Depression NOT tropical] would exclude results related to that weather term, tropical depression.
  • Does the order of the words matter? Yes, the earlier a word is in a search string, the more weight it gets in Google’s search algorithm.)
  • Should prepositions, articles, adjectives, conjunctions be included? Except for adjectives, Google ignores them unless you include them in quotation marks, for example, [“The Big Think.”]

The takeaway

A key to GoogleSearching being time-effective is to scan only the first page of results, paying particular attention to the first few, especially recent ones from authoritative sources.

Google’s search-term-completion suggestions can be helpful or red herrings.

Put terms that you want to search as a phrase in quotation marks.

In conclusion, it’s tempting to undervalue a resource that’s so readily available and free. Don’t. Used wisely, GoogleSearch enables you to very quickly learn a lot about almost anything. It is one of the most helpful technological advances in human history.

Dr. Nemko’s just-published book is The Best of Marty Nemko, 2nd edition.. He is a career and personal coach. He can be reached at mnemko@comcast.net.