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Navigating the Web

How to choose which websites to read

As you read a website, you should evaluate its content for relevance, reliability, and evidence of bias. But before you start reading, you can begin to be selective about your sources of information by being careful about which links you click from your list of google search results. This will save you time in your research!

Here are some tips:

1. Look beyond the first page of results

Just because it is at the top of the page, doesn't mean it is the "best" source! Websites get bumped to the top for many reasons.

  • At the very top of the page, you might see websites that PAID to be there. They aren't better, or more popular. They paid to get that spot. Google identifies these as ads by a little ad symbol (currently green text in a thin green box).  See how Google's identification of ads has changed over time.
  • Next, the search engine will attempt to rank webpages in order of relevancy. There are ways that owners can try to get their page to the top. SEO or Search Engine Optimization is considered to be a set of legitimate methods, but there are also tricks like stuffing keywords. 
  • Part of Google's techniques for determining relevancy includes your search history and other sites that you have clicked on before. They are trying to maximize relevant pages, BUT this means that alternative viewpoints may get pushed lower in the rankings.

2. Don't be too quick to click

Read BEFORE you click. Look closely at

  • The title - Is it relevant? Does seem biased, exaggerated, or overly emotional in tone
  • URL - Does the website appear to be an organization, news media, personal site?
  • Date - Sometimes there will be a date. This is when the page was written or updated. If you need up-to-date information, looking at an article from a few years ago would be a waste of your time.
  • Snippet of text - Like the clues you can get from the title, the snippet of text can help you determine whether the page is likely to be relevant.

All of these things can help you determine whether it will be worth your time to open the webpage for further reading.

3. Watch out for easy answers

Google's featured snippet or answer box is not enough to answer your question! You must click and read for the full story and to evaluate whether you think the source of the information is accurate and reliable. At best, you might only be getting a partial answer. At worst, you might be reading something completely untrue. There were high profile cases earlier this year when the featured snippets presented information from fringe sites that claimed that a number of US presidents had been members of the KKK and the former President Obama is planning a coup.