By: Ken Boyer, NewsEdge Editor

When I’m searching for content using an online search platform, I often start by throwing a net around a much bigger group of articles that I’m sure will include my target, then I narrow that group down by a process of elimination until I’ve found what I’m after.

Whether I’m using the platform or another web-based search engine, and whether I’m seeking news or research or company information, the strategies that produce good results for me always seem to be the same.

The biggest make I see people make is using a fraction of the tools available to them and just accepting results that aren’t really satisfactory. Don’t just accept the first result your search engine gives you. You can do better. Here are some tips.

1 – Know your toolset!

Whether you’re looking for a definite item or event, or just a general concept, your results will always be improved if you use all the tools the search platform offers. Start by reading the instructions page or just clicking on the various options in the user interface to see what you find.

In NewsEdge for example, that takes the form of a dropdown list to browse different facets of information you can use in your search, as well as settings for date range, display order, story length and source profiles.

Precoded facets offer you the ability to be more nuanced in your search than just using text. Instead of searching for the word “Apple”, you can utilize the platform’s own coding for Apple Inc. Instead of typing the word Brookline, you can use coding that specifies the town of Brookline, Mass.

Even if you’re sticking with keywords to create your search, find out if the platform lets you modify them in significant ways. Does it let you automatically search for all words related to a single stem? For example, does “trade” also return instances of “trades” and “trading”?

That kind of stemming uses a programmed dictionary to link words, but others offer the option of typing a rump word such as “trad*” and following it with a symbol that tells the search to return all words that begin with “trad”.

Most search platforms will return stories ordered by their significance to the terms you entered, which usually includes how many times the term appears in the story text. But some allow you to specify a minimum number of occurrences.

2 – Combine facets, they’re meant to work together!

Whether your search facets are text terms or pieces of metadata generated by the search engine or both, combining those facets will boost your search’s power. An easy way to visualize this is what’s called a Venn diagram. It’s when you represent the results of each facet with a shape like a colored circle. You place one circle, then another, and another overlapping each other until there’s just a small space that is covered by all of the facet circles. That’s the content you’re looking for!

Below is an image from NewsEdge using two companies and the online retail industry as its facets, but you can combine whatever facets your search platform allows.

If you’re only able to type in text, you can still accomplish something similar. Try thinking of those text terms as what facet they represent. Using Boolean operators such as AND and OR, you can combine a person, “Steve Zuckerberg”, with an action, “buying”, and a company, “Microsoft”. In that way you’ve used text to create your own Venn diagram of facets. Try it by combining an event and a group and a place. Or combine a product and adjectives that describe it. The more facets you include, the more focused your results become.

Blurb: Boolean is just a set of logical propositions that return true/false answers, such as; the story I’m looking for contains the name Steve Zuckerberg and the company Microsoft, but not the word “volcano.” When using Boolean, it’s important to capitalize the command, such as AND.

If you’re using Boolean, are you allowed more than one level of “nesting”? For example, can you request all stories that mention either Steve Zuckerberg or Bill Gates, and also mention either philanthropy or charity? You’ve added a nested clause (either of the two names) paired with either of the philanthropical terms. As more levels of nesting are added to your Boolean search, your search string can become more complicated, but also more precise.

3 – Uniqueness matters!

When you’re selecting your search terms, consider using a two or three-word term instead of a single term if possible, because this can allow you to more precisely match your term to the content you’re seeking. For example, I could type “picture frames” instead of just “pictures” or “frames”. This is even more helpful when you know the title or headline of the content you’re seeking. For a story headlined, “Ugly dog eats pretty cat”, try searching for the phrase “eats pretty” because it’s very unusual and your search request is likely to return only the story you’re looking for.

Also check to see if your search platform allows you to combine words with specific prepositions or conjunctions. Some platforms just ignore those types of words or treat them similarly, but if you can be specific it will give your search more context. For example, typing “will trade” or “to acquire” lets you specify that you’re looking for stories about a planned event that hasn’t yet occurred.

4 – Avoid a case of the NOTs!

It’s easy to get into the habit of tacking on exclusions at the end of your search string to remove unwanted results, but I urge you to avoid it. You want to narrow your results by combining positive terms and facets that operate based on what’s in your target content. The lazy way out is to start making a list of facets you don’t want to see, but if you’re not careful that list can grow out of control. It also introduces the danger that you’ll omit an important piece of content from your results because it unknowingly includes one of the terms or facets you’ve excluded.