Tag Archives: search engines

Social media as a research tool

When I teach writing, one of the strategies I teach students is a procedure for identifying experts on a topic.

I call it ripple strategy. It is basically the process journalists use when they start to investigate a topic about which they have no real starting information.

Ripples spread out from a drop of water falling into a puddle.

Ripples on water help students visualize the process of finding experts.

I tell students to begin by seeing if they have personal expertise on the topic. They may not be an expert, but specifying what they know can help them in the search for expertise.

If they can’t think of anything they know from personal experience, they move a bit beyond themselves to people they know personally: family, friends, teachers, co-workers, the owner of the pizza place they patronize. Do any of those folks have expertise on the writing topic?

If no one comes to mind, they move to the next farthest ripple: People they don’t know personally but who are known by people they know personally. These are folks like Mom’s boss’s son or the mail carrier’s brother.

Finally, they come to the people they know about but to whom they don’t have any third party link.

Let’s say a student’s rippling has led him to think a good source on his topic would be someone who  manages a nursing home.

The student can ask people in his closest “ripples” if they know someone who manages a nursing home.

If they don’t have any luck, they can use social media as a research tool.

Each of the major social media networks has its own search functionality.

Written for business people seeking customers, this article from the Business 2 Community website, gives a pretty good introduction to using Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, and Google+ to find people with interest or expertise in a given topic. Although the list doesn’t include LinkedIn, the six options it does discuss are probably more familiar to students grades 7 to 14.

The article isn’t a perfect answer to students’ find-an-expert questions, but it’s a good start.


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Filed under Lifelong learning, Teaching writing

Firefox search options go beyond Google

If you use Mozilla’s free Firefox browser, you probably know free add-ons increase the browser’s utility.

Did you know you can put specialized search engines available from the Firefox search box?

pop-up page list of installed search engines has link to more options

Manage Search Engines pop up page in Firefox web browser

The Firefox default lists seven general search engines, but you can add many others such as:

  • Howjsay 1.00, a free online dictonary of English pronunciation
  • Google scholar, the search engine for academic resources.
  • Dictionary.com
  • YouTube
  • SweetSearch, a search engine that searches only trustworthy, credible sites suitable for students seeking information.
  • The OCLC WorldCat libraries catalog of collections and services of 10,000 libraries around the world.
  • Library of Congress Search
  • Shmoop.com, a site created by Masters & Ph.D. students from Stanford, Berkeley, Harvard, offers study guides & teaching resources for literature, US history, poetry
  • Project Gutenberg, which gives free online access to books (currently only searches by titles)

To add these and many other free search engines to the menu on your Firefox search bar, simply click the drop down menu symbol to the left of the Firefox search engine box . On the Manage Search Engines screen, look for the link to get more search engines. Clicking that link will take you to the Firefox download pages where you can choose from over 3,000 search  engine options.

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Filed under Lifelong learning

Hyperlinks that get search engines’ OK

If you are reading this post, chances are you can create a hyperlink. The question is, do you know how to do it well enough that neither you nor the source to which you link are penalized for link spamming?

I’ll show you the right way and the wrong way to create hyperlinks so you can teach your students to do it right.

Bad hyperlinks

When using hyperlinks to link to content off your site, you need to remember that an exact keyword match is bad. The web world is full of freeloaders trying to get rich quick by stuffing their text with high-demand keywords not related to the theme of the page rather than building original content.  Search engines are not fooled. They know what keywords occur naturally and regularly in writing on particular topics.  Keywords are the core of their businesses.

Just as a  writing teacher would be suspicious if a student submitted an essay about  why Star Wars is his favorite movie and included the titles of the all-time top 100 movies,  search engines get suspicious when a webmaster/blogger loads pages with dozens of exact keyword-matched links.  (Note that a single blog page may contain hundreds of blog posts.)

Look at this example of hyperlinked text:

Portion of text showing hyperlink

Here’s the URL  that appears when you click the hyperlink:

address bar for hyperlinked textNote that the hyperlinked text is an exact keyword match for the page URL. That suggests a lazy writer who hasn’t bothered to produce original content.  People don’t normally come up with 28 reasons for something.  Three, five, or even 10 are typical; 28 is not. What search engines want to see is original content.

Here’s a second example of improperly hyperlinked text:

portion of page with three poor hyperlinks

Here are the addresses to which those hyperlinks lead. You can see that the highlighted portion is an exact keyword match.

address bar 3 with exact keyword match

address bar 5 shows exact keyword match

address bar 4 shows exact keyword match

Pages consisting primarily of links, with or without descriptions of their content, which are very popular with educators, are very unpopular with search engines.  They regard such pages as attempts to deprive them of their income.

Good hyperlink use

Here is a section of blog post. The highlighted section is a hyperlink in the original.

Here is the address bar for that hyperlink. Notice that the text is not an exact match for the address bar information, which is highlighted below.

The text and keyword in the URL are only slightly different, but even a slight difference in the way a keyword is typed makes a big difference to search engines.

Why you should care

Having good hyperlinks matters to you only if:

  • You want traffic to your website or blog: too many exact keyword matched hyperlinks will lower your search engine ranking and drop your traffic.
  • You want websites to allow you to link to them; since search engine’s began weighing the quality of incoming links from other sites, webmasters are asking  to have links to their site removed from pages that look like link spam.
  • You want other sites to link to yours: nobody wants to link to a site suspected of link spamming.
  • You want your education peers to regard you as a professional.
  • You think practicing good netiquette is as important as lecturing your students about it.

[Updated links 04-03-2012.]

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Filed under Language & literacy