The small business owner and searching online.

Searching Online

A Google search result if it was in real life.

The amount of information available to anyone with access to the internet is just so mind boggling huge.  So just how does one make sense of it all when searching online?

One of the biggest issues you as a small business owner has when searching online, is how can you be sure you have found “good information”.

You might be:

  • the owner of a business who offer rides in a vintage car looking for Hotels, Restaurants or other venues with a historic theme to collaborate with.
  • in the health and beauty industry want to know what the new trends are within your industry.
  • have an idea for a Phone App and want to know how easy it is to develop one for your business.
  • sell drinking containers and you have a new design for your product and want to know if it hasn’t been developed before.

Regardless of what your business is and what your motivations are, the biggest issue you will face when searching online is “how can you tell if this information is good information or bad information”.

Just what is good information? Does the definition change depend what you are looking for?

Well actually it doesn’t.

It doesn’t matter if you are looking for retail outlet to purchase your new design or trying to get your head around the regulatory requirements regarding a new child’s toy you want to sell.  To determine what is good information for your current online search project, you need to weigh up each piece of information you find against the same criteria regardless of your situation.

What the academics thinks

Online credibilityI have touched on information evaluation in prior blogs. However, this one is a bit more technical.

Information Evaluation academics tend not to talk about information in terms of good and bad, but focus on the concept of online credibility. The dictionary definition of credibility is simply “The quality of being believable or worthy of trust”.

To determine online credibility one just needs to work out if that online resource is believable or worthy of trust. This is not as simple as it sounds and academics have been trying to work this one out for a very long time.  If this type of thing interests you, there is a very good summary of most of the work done in defining what online credibility is all about here.

In simple terms there are a number of factors a small business owner should think about in determining if something is credible, these being:

  • Accuracy: Does the information contain any errors?
  • Authority:
    • Who wrote the article, and
    • what are their credentials, qualifications and affiliations?
    • Also is the website a trusted source.
  • Objectivity:
    • what is the purpose of the information,
    • it is fact or opinion,
    • is there a commercial intent, or
    • a conflict of interest?
  • Currency: Is this information up to date?
  • Coverage: How comprehensive is the information? Does it provide detail in depth or does it just glosses over the important points?

Sounds like a lot to get your head around, doesn’t it?  It can be quite daunting, and not to mention time consuming.

However, there is a little trick that I like to use when evaluating information.

7 questions to ask when searching online

Spidery Senses

Spidery Senses?

I have 7 questions I like to ask about any piece of information when determining if it is “credible information”.  I encourage you all to ask these questions. Sure at first it may seem cumbersome, but give it some time and you’ll be thinking about this questions without realising it.

I like to joke to my clients about my “spidery senses” and will say something doesn’t seem right just by glancing at a piece of information. This is no big trick, it’s just that I’ve been evaluating research for a very long time and I tend to ask these 7 questions subconsciously. And I’m certain in now time you’ll be developing your own spidery senses.

These questions are:

1 How old is the information?

old information

old information?

What you need to work out here “is will there be any new information from another source which will either enhance or reduce the credibility of this information”.

Please don’t just look at the date and say it’s x years old therefore it’s bad information. There is a possibility that there have been no new ideas regarding this information, so no one has written anything about it. Have a look at the other information sources your search results have shown. It should be quite obvious if this is old information or not.

2 Who is the author and are they an expert?

outstanding in field

Out Standing in their field?

This is very important. You wouldn’t go to a Dentist if your car is broken and you wouldn’t go to your local butcher if your pet cat was sick.  Check out the Author’s qualifications and background. Have they written other pieces on the topic?

3 Does the author have an agenda?

What is their motivation in telling you this? Are they trying to sell you something? Do they have a conflict of interest? This can tie in well with the second question, once you’ve worked out what their qualifications are, you should be able to determine what their motivation is. However, sometimes this can be hard to tell. You need to apply discretion here.  (Also be aware of how question number 7 may influence you here)

4 What type of information is it (news-article, opinion piece, scholarly article)?

trusted source

A trusted source?

This should be self-explanatory, but beware, of the authors motivations here.

Also just because someone is writing an opinion piece does not necessarily mean that this information is not credible. However also the reverse could be true also.

5 Who is the publisher and do they have an agenda?


A cunning plan?

This is very similar to question 2 and 3, but the focus is on the publisher, be it a newspaper story, a journal article, a personal blog, etc.

Can you trust an article saying chocolate has good health benefits when it is being published by confectionary company? Should you trust a white paper outlining the lack of productivity of meetings in a cafe, when the paper was commissioned by a company which offers short term office spaces.

Please beware of newspapers, especially opinion pieces masquerading as news. Sometimes it not that easy to tell. Have a look and see who the author is, are they a columnist or are they an expert in the field? Also consider Question 6 when trying to work this one out.

6 Does the article have links or references to other articles in order to back up the Authors claims?

linking an argument

referencing an idea

References and links can be seen as an academic thing and some people tend not put much weigh in them. I believe this is a huge mistake.

If one is trying to make a point about something (anything) you really should be able to back up your claims. A link and/or a reference says to the reader; yep, I’ve done my research or I know what I’m talking about, please have a look.

This is the one area where I think news articles are lacking. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve come across a newspaper article in a search I am doing regarding some new discovery in science where there is either no mention of who wrote or published the study. Not to mention providing a link to study in question.

If you come across any piece of information which does not include an article or a link of any kind, you should ask yourself “what does the author/published have to hide?” Be very suspicious.

7 THE MOST IMPORTANT ONE – Is the only reason I like this article is because it backs up my own personal feelings about the subject?

self critismCome on, we’ve all seen this, especially in groups and forums.  You are probably guilty of this yourself. Someone will voice an opinion and provide a link to back up this claim.

Generally, this is not a bad thing. In fact, I’ve been kind of saying that what one needs to do to give their argument credibility.  However, it’s not until you have a look at the link they have provided you find that it doesn’t stack up (especially if you ask the above 6 questions.

To be fair it is a very easy thing to do. We can let our own biases get in the way of rational thought.

Having said this, we have to beware that we do have biases. Just because we want something to be true, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is. You need to be very critical of your own motivation. Always!

One last thing.

holistic appraoch

Every question is related

When asking yourself the above 7 questions, you need to consider all of them at once. Just because a piece of information may not stack up against one of the questions, does not necessarily mean that it is a credible piece of information. But if it doesn’t stack up against 3 or more then you probably should disregard it.

Your spidery senses won’t happen overnight. They need to be developed.

However, if you don’t want develop your spidery senses but still want to access credible information, then please get in contact with me.

Online Research Matters

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