On Nov. 25, the Wall Street Journal had an article about finding the best “door-buster” items for Black Friday and Thanksgiving weekend sales. A graphic accompanying the article caught my eye – it showed dramatic spikes in Google search activity for a particular brand of women’s boots every year at the end of November… just around Black Friday.
This graph was generated by Google Trends and, while it wasn’t the focus of the article, it got me thinking about the usefulness of Google Trends in identifying marketing opportunities. Imagine what you would learn if you searched for your key products or services, or those of your competitors. If you learned that your customers were looking for information about a competing product during a predictable time period, wouldn’t you want to time your communications to be talking with your market right then?
It’s the beginning of conference season for us public speakers… along with the daffodils appear boarding passes and PowerPoint slides. One of my favorite conferences is Computers in Libraries, and I will be leading the Searcher Academy pre-conference workshop as well as giving a regular presentation on super searcher tips.
I have more tips than I could fit into a blog post; here are a few of my favorites that I will be sharing at Computers in Libraries:
* All of us consider ourselves to be above-average Google searchers. However, there are times when you can be too clever for Google and wind up with unexpected results. Say your search logic is (A and B) OR (C and D) – (Australia AND snakes) OR (Colorado AND mountain lions), for example, if you were comparing the dangerous animals of two regions. However, this search gets translated into logical gibberish by Google — Australia AND (snakes OR Colorado) AND mountain lions. You will get better results by separating your query into two different searches.
* How you word your search matters – a lot! I was looking for information on Uber’s market strategy and found dramatically different results with the following three seemingly similar queries: Uber market strategy, What is Uber’s market strategy and Uber “market strategy”. Always try several versions of your query, as there is surprisingly little overlap among the results of similar searches.
*Use MillionShort.com if you are researching an obscure topic, an individual, or looking for any kind of long-tail resource. This search engine lets you eliminate from your search result any of the million most popular web sites. You can also filter out any sites that have advertising or that appear to be e-commerce sites, which can be an effective way to find the web site for a small non-profit or a group committed to a cause.
You can see some of my prior super-searcher tips here and here.
I am a business researcher and analyst by training, and I’m always on the lookout for new and creative ways to find the more “hidden” information about companies and individuals. Here are a few of my latest favorites.
A recent webinar hosted by the Association of Independent Information Professionals gave me some great ideas on how to use patent information to glean business intelligence. Using ProQuest Dialog, presenter Darla Agard talked about various ways to find the unexpected and identify new opportunities using techniques I hadn’t thought of using. While her examples were from PQD, much of the data mining can be done in other professional online services as well. I particularly appreciated that most of these tips incurred no expenses.
Say you want to figure out where a company’s R&D centers are located. This is usually not something a company will disclose in its annual report or on its web site, but if the company holds patents a smart researcher can deduce the location of the centers by using PQD’s search filtering tools. As Darla explained it, use the INPADOC database to find all the patents held by the target company. In the search results page, scroll down along the right margin to “Narrow your search by” and expand the tab for “Patent assignee country”. This list shows the countries in which most of the patent assignees are located; this may indicate in which countries the company most likely has an R&D center. Likewise, the tab for “Patent publication country” is likely to indicate the manufacturing and distribution centers.
To get a rough idea of mergers or acquisitions a company has been involved in, search a business database such as Gale Group Trade & Industry for the company name, then limit the results to articles with the subject Company Acquisition/Merger. Scan the titles of the resulting set to see what companies are mentioned with the target company. It isn’t perfect, but it gives you a nice snapshot of recent activity.
To identify competitors in a small market, I sometimes use LinkedIn. I pull up the company page for any player I know of in the field. In that company’s LinkedIn page, I look at the box along the right margin for “People Also Viewed” — a list of the other companies that people looked at while they were looking at this company. While it’s not a comprehensive search, this gives you a start on identifying some of the other companies that share consumer mind-space.
Try Facebook Search Again
Facebook recently announced it was making all publicly-viewable posts searchable through what it calls “universal search”. It’s not quite universal; it doesn’t include any posts not marked as public, and only English-language posts are included in the archive. You can’t limit your search to phrases; Boolean operators like AND and OR don’t work; and you can’t filter or limit your search by date, nor can you sort the results by date. That said, if you are looking for topics that are narrowly focused or a small company, you may find useful pointers through Facebook’s newly-expanded search.
I’m one of those people who still reads newspapers. Even worse, I still get the print newspaper delivered to my doorstep every day. I could wax eloquent about the tactile pleasure and serendipitous delight of paging through a print newspaper, but I’ll spare you.
Often, I find an article thought-provoking enough that I want to share it and my thoughts to the world. Easy – I pop online, find the digital version of the article, and no one needs to know I saw the article first on a dead tree.
However, I ran into problems recently when I looked up the online version of a Wall Street Journal article and couldn’t retrieve it by searching for the title. Eventually, I found it; my problem had been that the digital version had an entirely different title than the print. Curious, I compared a week’s worth of print and digital headlines of WSJ articles and found that fewer than a quarter of the headlines were the same. While some of the titles were similar (“Boeing Scrambles to Get Key Part” and “Boeing, Supplier Wrestle to Produce Key Component”), others were entirely different (“Bye, Boss, Let’s Stay Friends Forever” and “How to Leave Your Job Gracefully”).
When I asked Dow Jones about the discrepancy between print and digital headlines, I got the following not-entirely-satisfying response:
At the Journal we are constantly refining our approach to headlines to ensure that our readers are automatically drawn to our work, whether printed on a page or comprised of pixels. We often fine-tune headlines in order to reflect developing news and improve SEO, but at the end of the day we are always looking for the best blend of digital optimization and smart journalism.
HERE is a table of the headlines from my one-week sample. Lesson: to find the digital equivalent of a print article quickly, search for a few unusual or distinctive words in the text rather than for words in the headline.
I’ve been an online searcher since the 19-mumbles, and I’m still learning new search tricks. Here are a couple of tips for mining online databases that I picked up from Cynthia Hetherington, a Big Kahuna in the private investigative world, during an excellent webinar on due diligence she gave for AIIP.
When you are exploring a new resource for information on individuals and want to figure out how far back in time the dataset goes, try searching for a common name like Smith. Since it’s a safe assumption that there will be Smiths in even the earliest records, you can just sort the search results in chronological order from earliest forward, and you’ll probably see the first year of coverage. You could use the same approach with any other type of database — just search for something that is likely to occur very frequently, and then see the date of the earliest record you retrieve. Searching an export database? Try a common export like machinery. Checking out a database of news articles? Search for the word President.
Another trick I learned from Cynthia relates to those times when you’re looking for reliable information on a topic and keep turning up too much irrelevant material. Try restricting your search to only government sites by adding to your search the phrase site:gov. Sure, it’s a very restrictive search and probably won’t turn up a lot of results, but the sites you do get will probably be useful. Cynthia recommended using this technique when looking for public records on individuals and needing to weed out all the resellers of government data.
(I was surprised at how useful this was. When googling bull snakes, having found one living in my backyard, I wasn’t finding much reliable information. Even the Wikipedia entry was full of “citation needed” notes. Limiting my search to .gov or .edu sites, I turned up several useful articles from university extension services and state government web sites. Bull snakes are our friends!)
[ADDED: Tara “ResearchBuzz” Calashain reminded me that she built an awesome Google Custom Search Engine that limits the search to just US states, counties and cities. See her description here.]
What search tricks have you learned recently?
Every now and then, Google re-brands the portal it’s designed for journalists. They just put out a press release announcing the Google News Lab, so I had a reason to look at the site again. In no particular order, here are the reasons why you—yes, you, non-journalist—should go look at the News Lab.
First, it’s designed from the user’s point of view rather than a Google engineer’s POV. What a concept! To start with, the shortened URL to get to the site is a mobile-friendly g.co/newslab. While you may not have had the foresight to register a three-letter domain like Google did, consider creating short, customized URLs for any site you want people to get to easily.
The front page offers multiple ways to engage with the site. There are four large graphics that offer brief tutorials for the various Google platforms, organized by Research, Report, Distribute and Optimize. Each of these areas features five to 10 tutorials on very focused, targeted activities relevant to journalists—everything from using Google Earth to creating consumer surveys and shaping stories to encourage binge watching.
There are also links across the top of the page, breaking out the content by type, including Tools, Data and Programs. The Tools link takes you to all the tutorials; the Data links offer examples of innovative ways that journalists and news organizations have created insight using Google’s data sets, and Programs highlights partnerships Google has with media organizations and the journalist community.
Much of the material in these lessons could be of use to solopreneurs as well. Do you know how and when to use Google’s reverse image search? Are you tagging your YouTube videos (webinars, podcasts, etc.) so that they are easily findable by your audience? Have you checked out Google Public Data Explorer‘s data sets and data viz tools to spice up a presentation?
Beyond raising your search and analysis skills, look at the News Lab for ideas on how to present your services or products in ways that make sense to your user community.
While I appreciate being a one-person business, with no one’s job performance to evaluate and no boss’s requests for pre-meeting meetings, that does mean that I need to find people to provide support for my business. I use a bookkeeper, an accountant, and a lawyer. I hire subcontractors for work I can’t do myself. I identify speakers and experts in my volunteer roles with non-profit organizations and professional associations.
But before I contact people directly, I always conduct at least a basic background check to learn a little more about them In addition to looking in at least two search engines, I spend a while going through social media to see how they present themselves to their friends and the larger community. I look to see whether other people interact with them on social media. I check whether they have any referrals from colleagues, and whether they offer referrals for others. And I just try to get a sense of what they are like — collegial? well-respected? staying current in their profession?
When you are researching someone who is not a well-known figure, finding their social media profiles can be challenging. I recently developed a short MEB’s 123s podcast, Top Ten Tips for Researching People With Social Media, that gives you some fresh ideas on how to glean more insight from Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.