Finding stuff in the age of SEO
January 1, 2021 10:13 PM   Subscribe

How do you find what you're actually looking for in a sea of SEO garbage?

I consider myself a fairly technically savvy person, yet I find it nearly impossible to get useful search results anymore. Even attempting to use the "Advanced Search" features in Google doesn't help weed out the SEO nonsense. I feel like I spend so much time trying to find relevant search results that aren't the top 50 pages that appear in every google result.

Can you share any Google-fu tips you use to get good search results? A few notes:
- I'm not looking for search tips for a specific subject, but rather general skills to return better quality results.
- I'm open to using other search engines, but I've had similar experiences outside of Google thus far.
- Assume I know the basics: using quotations for exact phrases, how to exclude a term, etc. I guess I'm looking more for strategies, rather than a link to Google's Help page or similar.
posted by bluloo to Technology (23 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
What kinds of stuff are you looking for? For anything technical or where you are pretty sure a reference text exists I start at Wikipedia and Google Books and forego the general search page.
posted by benzenedream at 10:35 PM on January 1, 2021

(SEO = search engine optimization)
posted by Juniper Toast at 10:45 PM on January 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: At the level of general, I guess when I'm getting swamped by money-driven sites, I try to come from an angle where there's not money in it. Don't look like a wallet.

If I'm searching about a commercially available thing, show no whiff of intent to purchase in my query string; search like I already own one. Search for discussions among enthusiasts, sometimes, or professionals -- if I want to know about faucets, search for plumbers talking shop about faucets.

I know you said general but the implementation varies so much for each example, if you'd want to share some ones that have been bad.
posted by away for regrooving at 11:07 PM on January 1, 2021 [10 favorites]

I often use a more specific search engine / content collection to find more keywords, like Google Books, Google Scholar, Internet Archive texts, HathiTrust, PubMed Central, etc., or for example a .pdf-only advanced search, and then go back to a general Google search with those keywords.

Another thing that can be useful about other sources is that in some you can specify a date range, like "2000-2010" for example, whereas the general Google search just gives you "last year", "last month", "last week", "last day".

Also, don't neglect the domain-specific advanced search field when you start to find results under a specific domain. (Like "SEO", for example. in fact the way you want to search the Internet Archive is really by appending "" to a Google search, because the IA internal search engine doesn't seem to work too well.)
posted by XMLicious at 11:16 PM on January 1, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Tangential to your question, but I often encounter pages and pages of useless search results myself, but I use a Tampermonkey script called Google Hit Hider By Domain that helps make all the useless stuff disappear.

Any time you encounter a junk site, you can just go back to the search results page and press the "block" button, and you will never have to see results from that site again. Gradually your search results get less annoying and more useful, although it probably depends somewhat on what you're searching for in the first place.

(Google itself used to have a feature like this, but of course they discontinued it because that's what they do.)
posted by Umami Dearest at 11:26 PM on January 1, 2021 [16 favorites]

Response by poster: Ok, to add a bit of guidance, a few examples: I'm interested in buying a product, but I want to read something more in depth than an Amazon review. I will often read blog posts about a product in that scenario; even if it's a sponsored post, or they use affiliate links, I can generally get more information about the product specifications that matter to me via reading their opinions.

Another example: trying to find a DIY or craft tutorial instead turns up a thousand ways to buy the thing I'm trying to make myself, or it results in a vague explanation that is really just a content farm post to link to their tool to do said repair/craft/whatever.

So to summarize, I'm not talking about technical material or academic stuff (that I can handle). I'm having trouble when I want to find something that is opinion based or borders on shopping.
posted by bluloo at 11:35 PM on January 1, 2021

Best answer: I use epic browser as it has a very light VPN, but enough to hide me from Google.

I do a lot of domain-limited searches.

Occasionally I use the duck but it's still not up to par with Google.

I keep a running notepad of search strings (saved with a random number in file name) with all finds named and saved with
the same random number so I can refine as I go and I can come back later.
posted by unearthed at 11:44 PM on January 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

Caveat user, but the product, DIY and craft situations you describe are exactly when I often find a google search gets me further than anything else, initially.
posted by protorp at 12:23 AM on January 2, 2021 [8 favorites]

For reviews which are more in depth (and trustworthy) than Amazon I usually look on YouTube. It's much easier to locate authentic voices there.
posted by mani at 12:29 AM on January 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

I rely a great deal on the wirecutter for preliminary product shopping, to get an idea of what’s out there. Then if I find an exact thing I want to investigate further I’ll google product names in quotes to see if there’s any gossip out there. Depending on the item I’m looking at sometimes I block domains like Pinterest or marketing sites. If it’s something that multiple big stores carry I’ll compare reviews on them like Home Depot vs target or whatever.

For craft tutorials youtube can be a pretty good source once you refine your awareness of content farms. Also reddit, as mentioned above, can sometimes be an okay avenue to pursue. There are a lot of nice things in the archives of tumblr that will show up on domain specific search results, depending on the craft. I always block pinterest for searches like this.

A lot of this is just sort of educating yourself on how to identify lies and manipulation and applying it to websites instead of say, journalism. I agree it’s gotten a lot harder.
posted by Mizu at 1:50 AM on January 2, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Only ever browse with uBlock Origin active. This means you'll never see a sponsored link, which means you'll never click a sponsored link, which will encourage search engines not to offer you content related to sponsored links.

Lies and manipulation = advertising, to an extremely good first approximation.
posted by flabdablet at 4:45 AM on January 2, 2021 [11 favorites]

Best answer: gives you Google results without the bubble. You get generic results rather than results based on your past clicks.
posted by Awfki at 5:02 AM on January 2, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: If you want to find obscure results for specific topics, Million Short occasionally gives pretty good results.
posted by querty at 5:40 AM on January 2, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I've had similar issues with Google search, especially with craft or DIY tutorials.

I'm pretty sure I came across Million Short through a MeFi post. It removes the first 100 to 1 million results from a search. It actually works quite well for me, especially for finding nifty "old internet" blog posts and non-corporate content. Here's an old Wired article about it.

According to the Wikipedia article, "This approach to search is also designed to combat the impact that aggressive black and grey hat SEO practices have on mainstream search results."
posted by forkisbetter at 5:42 AM on January 2, 2021 [4 favorites]

Another approach is to go back to the old days where we didn’t optimize every purchase or craft with hours of research. Pick a couple of sources and check those out - if it’s a minor purchase, just go from specs/reviews. If it’s a major one ask family and friends or check out a specific related community. For crafts ask around and find local crafters or again, specific blogs/forums/etc. for that craft. If you’re buying specific tools and supplies find a store or manufacturer who does right by you.

In April I was looking for model kits for my kids online but it was hard to sort out. I found an expert...the owner of the model store I patronized in the 1980s. No regrets on that one!

SEO would have you believe you can find exactly what you want at the point you want it - but it games your behaviour and captures one of your most precious resources - your time.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:12 AM on January 2, 2021 [7 favorites]

While general knowledge and exploratory searches can still work moderately well, searches for specific or detailed information almost always need terms added to target them to trusted sources if you want useful results. Instead of "array prototype" "mdn array prototype". Instead of "4k tvs" "wirecutter 4k tvs". Instead of "beef wellington" "beef wellington bon appetite". Of course, this only works for the known unknowns. I also do this with this site a lot: podcasts

Model numbers and error codes and other specific identifiers can be useful, but you usually have to put them in quotes, because they will have relatively few hits in relation to general phrases, and google will otherwise include results without them.

Another thing I tend to do is include snippets that I expect a human might say in relation to the topic, in quotes. For example, when searching for guidance on making duxelles, I added "a little too dry" including the quotes to my search, because it filtered pretty well to actual people talking about making it.
posted by Nothing at 7:24 AM on January 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

I like searching community sites like Reddit, tumblr, and Metafilter, then spidering out from there.
posted by wowenthusiast at 10:05 AM on January 2, 2021

Best answer: Another thing I tend to do is include snippets that I expect a human might say in relation to the topic, in quotes. For example, when searching for guidance on making duxelles, I added "a little too dry" including the quotes to my search, because it filtered pretty well to actual people talking about making it.

This approach can also work pretty well for finding product reviews by actual humans, if you have a specific use/concern in mind that you want to get information on. The key I think is using a partial sentence, so it includes something of what you're looking for, but without being so specific you only get matches for that exact phrase.

For example I was looking to buy new hiking boots a couple of years back and wanted to know how the grip/soles held up in bad weather - which you can't exactly try out in the shop. So I took the product names on my shortlist and added something like "in mud" or "wet rocks" and that brought back a bunch of bloggers and in-depth magazine reviews talking about the boots I wanted in the conditions that interested me. I'd never have found the bloggers in a more generic search, but they had some of the most relevant information.

(The downside, of course, is that it doesn't translate so well to queries where you may not know what "else" you want to look for but want to skip straight to blogger results all the same.)
posted by randomonium at 10:13 AM on January 2, 2021 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! I've marked some best answers, based on the specifics of what I'm trying to optimize for, but they're all good suggestions. I think the term "old internet" gets at what I'm trying to recreate. I can (generally) identify the manipulations, but I don't want to spend my time wading through irrelevant results. Additionally, I do use YouTube for more sincere information, but a) I have to watch most to all of the video to get the information I need, as opposed to skimming a blog post and b) Youtube has their own algorithms designed to keep me watching past what I came for, which is not great for managing my attention with ADHD.
posted by bluloo at 12:44 PM on January 2, 2021 [2 favorites]

I just add the word "forum" after the search terms, which sometimes takes me to a useful discussion on whatever it is, between well informed and civil participants on a specialist website which I hadn't heard of previously. (But not always.)
posted by Kiwi at 12:55 PM on January 2, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: My primary problem is that Google litters my search results with Pinterest links, so I usually end up appending -pinterest to my search. The minus sign keeps that term out of the results. (Theoretically. It's fairly effective, though.) If I'm looking for results that aren't places to shop, I look at the first set of results, then pick out common words to exclude, like "cost," "price," "sale," "coupon," etc. This might also filter out results from blogs reviewing the item and linking to it with words like "On sale at StoreName," but it'll also surface results such as forums or blogs where users are complaining about the item to each other that otherwise would be hidden.

The ability to use the minus sign is why, although I have DuckDuckGo set as my primary search engine because they don't track you as much as Google, I end up using Google 90% of the time. DDG doesn't remove ALL of the search terms prefaced by a minus, just SOME. Which is annoying because when I use it I don't want ANY.
posted by telophase at 2:31 PM on January 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

Not sure what things you're generally looking for, but I find I look at Reddit more often than Google nowadays
posted by christiehawk at 11:10 PM on January 2, 2021

Regarding pinterest, you can exclude whole domains from google like this: "-site:pinterest.*" The star is because they have other country domains than just .com
posted by ArgentCorvid at 1:57 PM on January 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

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