Smart Searching Saves Time and Frustration

In the last issue I talked about choosing a search engine to help you monitor online conversations. You choice of search engines doesn’t matter much if you don’t ask the right questions, and here’s where it pays to know the advanced options that are available to you and how to be creative with search terms.

Let’s continue to assume that you’re marketing a resort destination in Quebec, Canada. Of course, you’ll want to start by searching for your own resort in the various engines I’ve outlined. Then you’ll probably want to find people who are talking about your industry but who perhaps aren’t familiar with your business. They can help build awareness.

Think like a customer. Experiment with combinations of words that describe not only the destination but also what people expect to do there. For example, Québec resorts fishing, Québec resorts skiing, Québec lodging winter, Québec luxury hotel, Québec resorts recommended and Quebec hotel best all deliver different result sets. Substituting Canada for Quebec will also give you different results.

One powerful timesaver is to narrow your results using quotations. This will deliver pages that have words in the exact sequence that you specify between the quotation marks. This can make a huge difference in the size of the results domain. For example, “best Quebec hotels” returns only seven results on Google while best Quebec hotels returns nearly 2.3 million! You can also combine quoted and unquoted search terms in interesting ways: Quebec luxury hotel and Quebec “luxury hotel” actually return somewhat different results, with the latter query identifying specific hotels on the first results page that don’t show up from the first query.

Use Advanced Search

Most search engines allow you to narrow your search using quotes. However, not all do. Use the advanced search page in that case. You can also use advanced search to narrow your query terms. For example, you can specify that search results may not contain the word Montreal. Advanced search is also where you can specify whether words appear in the title, text, page name or other locations. This is another way of winnowing down your result set to a more manageable number. For example, it’s a safe bet that a page that mentions Quebec luxury hotels in the headline is going to be more specific to that topic than one that doesn’t.

You can even use advanced search to specify results for a single site. This is useful in assessing influence because it quickly shows you the level of activity about a particular topic on any site. For example, the query “quebec luxury” delivers a small number of articles from the site that specifically mention the keywords. This filtering is useful if you discovered a site that seems relevant to your area of interest and want to find out how active it’s been.

Another useful filter is the “link:” command. This quickly shows you a list of all other pages linking to a site or page you specify. It’s a quick way of assessing influence. For example, if you want to find out the popularity of The Informed Traveler blog, you’d type and immediately learn that 649 pages link to this site. You could visit a sampling of those pages to see how valid those links are.

That takes care of the general-purpose search engines, but did you know there are sites that search only blogs and social networks? In the next installment, we’ll take a look at those.

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