Address Bar and Search BoxA common mistake that many novices make while using web browsers is that they confuse the address bar with a Google search box. Although you can often get to the same place both ways, they are different things – and occasionally this can make a huge difference.

The Address Bar

The address bar is located at the top of your browser window, and when you’re on a website it will display the site’s address. The picture on the right has the address bar of a Safari browser outlined in red.

When you want to go to a website, you can type that website’s address straight into the address bar and press enter. For example, if you wanted to come to my site, you might type “http://tech-and-teaching.com” into the address bar.

The original intent of the address bar was to tell the browser to find a webpage at a specific location and display it. Once upon a time, this was the main way that people went to websites. It may be hard to believe, but Google has not been around forever.

The Search Box

Today, the term “Google” has become an everyday verb for most people. To Google something, you know that you type a phrase into a search box and press enter.

Once upon a time, that meant going to Google’s website – typing http://google.com into your address bar – and then typing your search query into the search box. Today, most browsers have created shortcuts for this. For example, the picture to the right shows the native search box built into Firefox.

Whether you go to Google’s page directly or use the browser’s built in search box, the end result is the same. You’re telling Google (or another search engine, like Bing) to find a website with information about the phrase that you typed in. You’ll end up at a results page with a list of possible websites to visit.

So What’s the Big Deal?

People often get in the habit of typing their destination into the search box. Many web browsers are set to open up directly to a Google search page, so it seems natural to just type your intended destination into that inviting box.

If you’re actually searching for something (i.e. using a search query like “how to cook rice”), this makes sense. However, if someone told you to go to a website (like howtocookrice.com), you could probably type that website address into Google’s search box and end up at the right place all the same.

So what’s the big deal? Well, sometimes you won’t end up in the right place. Let’s say you’re at a professional development conference and someone writes a short-link on a presentation: http://goo.gl/ZAHbn. If you type that into Google instead of your address bar, you’re going to get very confused. And ultimately you won’t get to your destination (which happened to be this very page).

This is a common problem with my students at the beginning of every year. I use goo.gl short links to share resources (i.e. power point slideshows or handouts), and invariably a few students will type them into a search box instead of the address bar.

So What Do I Do?

If you’re trying to go to a specific webpage via a URL (i.e. http://teach-and-teaching.com/), always type this into the address bar. It will get you to your destination faster, and it will help prevent confusion.

If you’re trying to search for a webpage but you don’t know the URL, use the search box built into your web browser or go to a search engine (like Google).

By the by, in case you’re confused by the title, the symbol “!=” means “not equal to.” It’s conventional notation in computer programming, just like “≠” is in math.