Now, this may seem obvious, but when we asked 300 students how they know they can trust information on a Web site, very few of them said they look at the site's publisher and its authors. And I've even way too many adults recommend a Web site even though the site itself offered no information about who created it.
Is the site's publisher a scientific journal, a law firm, a university or a well-established news organization? Are the writers professors, journalists or experts in the field?
Does the site employ a whole editorial team, with full-time writers and skilled editors who review everything, or are the publisher and writer the same person—someone with a lot of knowledge about, and passion for, the topic? If the latter, is he just publishing the site as a hobby? If so, the consequences for getting information wrong are minimal.
Is the author simply trying to entertain you, or sell you something, or get you to donate money to a cause?
Who cares? Google sorts this all out for you, and lists the sites from the best writers first, right?
In fact, the opposite is usually true.
Someone who wants to sell you something works hard to make his site rank higher than it should. And someone who is passionate about a topic and unburdened by journalistic or academic guidelines may write an entertaining article that is linked to often and thus ranks well in search engines.
On the other hand, many experts and professors don't even try to make their Web sites rank high in search engines.
When I explained why SweetSearch was the best search engine for students, I showed several examples of the biggest search engines giving prominence to sites that didn't say who they were published by or who authored their articles.
So how do you find out who published the site and why?
The “About Us” section of a site is a good place to start. If the site doesn't list the name of the publisher and its management team—and this is often the case—then hit your “back” button and visit another site. You would never trust a book without knowing its author and publisher; why would you trust a Web site without the same information?
But the “About Us” can't be the end of your research. Look for additional information about the publisher or author and their credentials elsewhere on the Web site, and then by searching their names in a search engine. Any reputable publisher or author should be mentioned on other reputable Web sites. For an author, search the name along with key subject words to see if he or she has written other articles on the subject for other publications. Usually someone who is an expert on a topic writes about it often for several different publications.
Now that you know how to find out who wrote this, also ask:Mark E. Moran
Founder & CEO