Asking the right questions is a crucial skill both in life and in online research. While it isn’t the sexiest topic, learning a few search tips, hacks, and techniques makes life easier for any writer.
In a world of fake news and spam, Identifying quality sources is one of the most important research skills. If you want ideas on that topic, check out this previous post covering Tools for Successful Research. Now, using your built-in BS detector, search engines like Google and Bing offer a world of information. Often, it helps to narrow the results to a few trusted sources, so we find credible information we want more quickly.
Tips and Hacks for Google (and Bing or Duck, Duck Go)
Sometimes a Google search can yield results that are just to broad to be helpful especially if you need authoritative sources. Search modifiers can help narrow the focus to better find your target. The advanced search feature is the easiest way to modify a search, but your research life may be easier if you learn a few common modifiers that you can use from the basic search.
Keep in mind that most of the popular modifiers Google uses also work on Bing and Duck Duck Go. So if you prefer the privacy Duck Duck Go offers, these search hacks may still work!
A Few Helpful Search Modifiers
- Site search: Limit your query to specific websites. This can be helpful if you want specific information from a large site that doesn’t have a sophisticated internal search. Simply structure the search beginning with “site:theurl.com.” For example to search the Writer Access site for mention of the gig economy use the query (site:writeraccess.com Gig Economy) to see results including all Writer Access blogs mentioning the gig economy.
- Domain extension search: This technique is a variation of the site search only instead of listing a website, you limit the query to a specific subdomain such as .gov or .edu. For example, to find mentions of the “gig economy” on government sites use the query (site:.gov gig economy).
- Both “AND” and “OR” are also helpful time savers. Using “OR” allows you to search for two specific keywords or search terms. For example, sometimes researchers use the term “sharing economy” as a synonym for the “gig economy.” To broaden the government domain search to include both terms, structure the query (site:.gov “gig economy” OR “sharing economy). The AND function works in a similar way only the results would require both terms to be used.
- Search Engine Land published a guide to ten popular modifiers that are useful in SEO and content marketing.
Finally, consider using Google’s more specialized tools for more specific and authoritative information. Do you ever struggle to find facts or statistics for your client’s content? A simple Google search can help, but Google Dataset Search allows you to search for statistics from the datasets aggregated. Some are publicly available and some fee-based, the sorting options allow you to specify whether you want free sources and as well as other criteria like commercial use permissions.
If you want to stick with known trusted data sources, Google also offers a Public Data Explorer for those who want to limit their searches to well-known resources like The World Bank, US Bureau of Labor Statistics and 136 other sources.
Many writers use Google Scholar as a go-to if they need to find published research studies or court opinions. Search modifiers also work with Scholar since it is part of the Google family.
Using Twitter as a Search Engine for Trends
If you read online news and commentary, on any given day you see journalists quote Tweets from celebrities and public officials. Twitter also offers powerful search options making it easier to reference top Tweets in listicles and other content.
Of course, sometimes all you need is to run a site search for twitter.com along with your term or the Twitter handle that interests you. However, Twitter’s native search may include Tweets not yet indexed on Google. Twitter’s advanced search tool offers options like focusing on specific accounts, excluding terms, and filtering by level of engagement.
This just scratches the surface of more advanced online search techniques. I love that learning a few hacks speeds up the writing process. Best of all, clients who appreciate authoritative sources are happy and they continue to send solo and love list orders.
For more helpful tips and tools, remember to check the WriterAccess Talent Blog.
Sam S. writes reader-friendly content that is also SEO-friendly. She believes the best “SEO” comes from useful content. The content should answer the reader’s question or offer solutions to their challenges. She also specializes in social media content and curation. Sam is an active blogger who manages two publications. Her flagship site covers fitness, food, and lifestyle. She also maintains a book and entertainment blog. In addition to her blogs, Sam is an active guest contributor. She contributes on-going columns for a few publications. These on-going gigs include a weekly consumer tech column, a comparison shopping guide series, and a bylined series on social media marketing and personal branding.