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Why Search Engines Don’t Get You Relevant Results – And What To Do About It

Why Search Engines Don’t Get You Relevant Results – And What To Do About It

search engines researchMaking research is very essential to the writing craft. Unfortunately however, many essayists see it as an arduous task at best and a stumbling block at worse. Hence, they either out rightly neglect it or toil too hard on it and get an insignificant result.

This should not be the case. Research can be fun – as appealing as fried rice J. You can learn how to make research online with admirable ease, and even master it.

Why research at all?

After publishing last week’s writing tutorial on research making, a reader asked in the comments:

…I needed to ask this question and I hope you will give me a feedback to it ASAP….I needed to get some statistics concerning an essay I’m writing, for instance the number of current wars in Africa and some other statistics, but I couldn’t get a satisfying answer on Google and even on the UN’s website…please help. Thanks.

First, if you’re not sure whether you need to research your topic or how much research you need to put up a brilliant essay, go read the piece: Writing An Essay: Personal Reflections Or Vigorous Research?

If your topic is a familiar one, then you can form an opinion to write about, right away. But then, you still need to research for supporting materials like dates of events, the exact names of relevant places, persons, etc. Suppose that your topic isn’t familiar however, you need to gather materials to study.

Do you make research the wrong way?

One of the common mistake I see essay entrants make is feeding search engines with sentence queries (e.g., “which wars have been fought in Africa between 2000 and 2012?”).

My stats page from the back end of my website reveals that many writers include many unnecessary or out rightly gibberish (from search engines’ perspectives) words in their search keywords.

Could you be smarter?

One thing you should know is that search engines understand and interpret keywords, not sentences or expressions.

When you key in your search terms, the search engine scans the whole internet and displays web pages containing a combination of your keywords.  If you include irrelevant words, you get a diluted, not-very-relevant result.

For instance, if you search for “corruption Nigeria,” the search engine displays all web pages containing both words, in order of relevance. If however, you search for “recent cases of corruption in Nigeria,” the search engine returns only web pages containing ALL the 6 keywords.

As such, some relevant articles and reports online which contain “corruption” and “Nigeria” may not be show up simply because they do not contain “recent” or “cases” or “of” or “in”.

Such an approach is wrong. To get relevant results, you must search with only keywords (e.g. “wars Africa 2009,” “crises Somalia,” “Tunisia political instability,” etc.) not with sentences as search engines don’t understand sentences.

Now see how to get great results

To get optimal results, prepositions (e.g. “in,” “over,” “about,” “behind,” etc.), articles (e.g. “a,”  “an” and “the”), verb to-be (e.g. “is,” “are,” “was,” “were,” “am,” etc.), auxiliary verbs (e.g. “will,” “shall,” “must,” “may,” “could,” “have,” “had,” etc.), conjunction (e.g. “with,” “and,” “or,” “neither…nor,” etc.) and other words with little or no intrinsic value should never make it into your search terms, except in some special cases.

So if you’re writing on the topic, “Employment Generation and Expansion: A Panacea To Security Challenge in Nigeria,” it would be out of place to search for any of the following:

  • How employment generation and expansion can be a panacea to the security challenge in Nigeria.
  • How can I create employment in Nigeria to solve insecurity?
  • Recent instances of security challenges in Nigeria.
  • Which country has used employment generation and expansion to solve insecurity and how did it do it?
  • Statistics on unemployment in Nigeria and how it is causing insecurity.

The list is endless. None of the above would produce a scintilla of relevant result.

If you want very relevant materials – and there’s no reason why you should not – I recommend you use only the most important keywords. Some examples include:

  • Employment generation Nigeria.
  • Job creation Nigeria.
  • Insecurity Nigeria.
  • Poverty and insecurity.
  • Niger Delta unemployment insecurity
  • Statistics unemployment Nigeria.

Also important is the need not to stuff your search queries with too many keywords. Hence, you shouldn’t search for “job creation insecurity Nigeria” which appears clumsy. It’s better to instead use the above for two different searches using the keywords: “job creation Nigeria” as a separate search query and “insecurity Nigeria” as another.

You can also use quotes (“…”) around your keyword(s) to search for that exact word or set of words. This option is helpful when you’re searching for a line from literature, a quotation or song lyrics, e.g., searching for “Nigeria jagajaga, everything scatter scatter, poor man dey suffer suffer” will bring results relating to the song, “Nigeria jagajaga” by Eedris Abdulkareem.

This piece is not exhaustive of research tactics. If opportunities present themselves in the nearest future, I shall examine how to do “site search” and “title search” among other research tips.

If you wish, you can check out this helpful Google resource for further tips.

Now your turn…

Is research making online fun or tough for you? What would you like to learn next about essay writing? Your views matter, share them in the comments!

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About Muhammed Abdullahi Tosin

Writer. Difference Maker. Entrepreneur. Author, Your Right To Write & Vertical Writing. Winner, 11 Writing Prizes.


  1. Abdulgafar says:

    Jazaakum llahu khairan

  2. An insightful and enlightening piece here! Kudos

  3. Kamaldeen says:

    Jazakumullahu khaeral jaza’I! Kudos Sir!

  4. Okolo nathaniel says:

    Very instructive piece

  5. Mushafau oloyede bn sanni says:

    interesting clues, jazaalallahi khayra

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