Three Strategies for Finding Hidden Information on the Internet

Surfing the Web Vs. Diving into its Depths: How do you find information?

Surfing the Web vs. Diving into its Depths: How do you find information?

It’s crunch time! We’ve passed the semester midpoint, and final papers and projects are nearing their due dates. Some of your students may be beginning their final projects. Others have not looked at project requirements since January. Regardless of their progress, they are all susceptible to one fatal flaw: unfamiliarity with how to effectively conduct research on the web.

Even the Millennials, born in the Internet era, can make the mistake of narrowing the depth of their research to “Googling it.” Google, Yahoo and Bing, three commonly known search engines, are still not the greatest knowledge sources that lie at our fingertips. In fact, they barely skim the surface of the Internet.

Search engines use web crawlers that take the information entered into their search box and find results for inquiries. This process utilizes algorithms that assure only the best, most relevant content shows in the search, while the spam and trash is lowered in the result ranking or even filtered out entirely.

Despite these measures, an often-cited study executed by Michael K. Bergman states that search engines can only find less than 1% of the information available on the Internet. The rest is known as the Deep or Invisible Web, and it is hidden or restricted behind the following walls:

  • College and Company Intranets
    Like Macomb Community College, many other higher education institutions and corporations have their own Intranet that stores a wealth of information only accessible to those within the company.
  • Tor
    This “back alley” of the Internet houses a collection of secret websites to which only those with special software are able to access. Originally created as a method for communicating sensitive information anonymously, Tor has also become a black market for illicit dealings.
  • Databases
    Containing incredible amounts of valuable information, databases are generally open to the public. However, they require a person to type a query in a search box in order to access these documents. Web crawlers cannot locate anything past the first page.

The aforementioned Bergman study concluded that 54% of the information on the web is “hidden” behind databases, and therefore invisible to Google’s web crawlers. By introducing your students to the Invisible Web, you will help make them better equipped to locate, interpret, and present quality, well-researched projects throughout their academic and professional careers.

So, how can you help your students dive a little deeper into the academic end of the web? Here are three tips:

1)   Learn from Our Professionals
Your first step is to visit the Library at either South Campus J Building or Center Campus C Building. There, the librarians are available to guide your search process though Macomb’s databases. While they will focus their searches within the databases offered through the library, the lessons they impart can be used elsewhere.  

2)   Suggest Web Directories
Now that you understand how to search, you’ll need to find the best places to search. Macomb’s Library offers a wide variety of resources, but should not be the only site you utilize. Direct your students to web directories such as or Simply by typing in the topic of your interest, the directory will find databases teeming with articles, studies, and other such research specific to that subject.

  • If the entire class is compiling research on the same subject, you can find a couple of free, trustworthy databases to suggest when presenting the project.

3)   Designate Multiple Key Words
Even with these tools at your disposal, you may still struggle accessing the information you seek. This may occur simply because you aren’t using the right key words. Suggest that your students try different word combinations and phrases in order to access a wider variety of relevant content.

  • When researching this article, I encountered a lot of roadblocks when solely searching the phrase “Deep Web.” Eventually, I came across the phrase “Invisible Web” in my findings, and by using that specific wording, I was able to access better content.

For more information on the Invisible Web, read The Ultimate Guide to the Invisible Web. To discover more tips and links to expand your searches beyond the Surface Web, check out 100 Useful Tips and Tools to Research the Deep Web. Finally, although this article’s focus was on the invisible web, it is important to keep in mind the value of the common search engine. When used effectively, it can be an incredible tool to add new ideas and content to your courses. To learn more, watch the video recording of our newly developed workshop, Rev Up Your Search Engines.

If you have web research tips of your own, share them with us in the comments section, or tweet them to @MCCInstructTech.

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