Smart Internet Searching Saves Time and Money
By Denise Ryan, MLS
According to International Data Corporation analyst Susan Feldman in The High Cost of Not Finding Information, (KM World, March 2004), the time spent looking for and not finding information can potentially cost an organization up to $6 million a year. According to the study, this figure does not include "lost opportunity costs," estimated at a loss of $15 million per year and "the costs of reworking information that exists but can't be located," another $12 million per year. The study arrived at these costs by combining previous reports and findings from AIIM, Reuters and others to quantify the impact on a typical enterprise of a thousand knowledge workers that earn an annual salary of $80,000.
No doubt using the Internet to find your next house or start your holiday shopping is something we all can handle. For researching business intelligence, the Internet is also a viable resource if you search smart. Most of the time you probably find what you need. Or do you? A 2004 study, Web Search Usability Metrics: Search Behavior and Search Trends by the Mondosoft Development Team, analyzed 60,000,000 search queries from 400 customers and found that users rarely viewed beyond the first page of results and would redo a query only once or twice before giving up.
Locating the most current and accurate business intelligence available is not always possible with a two-phrase key word search. There are many tricks and tips that you can use to make the Internet work more effectively as a viable source for your business.
- Know How The Search Engines Run
Years ago, some engines utilized keyword searching (such as Google) and others employed categorized directories for browsing (such as Yahoo!) but many now carry both options. If you are searching on a keyword-type search engine, use specific words and as many as allowable (Google allows ten words) to help uncover focused results. If you are using a directory, type in common terms and then drill down. Pick one or two engines and become familiar with the limitations and tools of each. New tips and techniques are continually popping up so it's a good idea to frequent the help and FAQ sections. If you don't use search engines often, bookmark a good cheat sheet that covers the various features of each. One source is on Greg Notes' Search Engine Showdown Website found at: http://www.searchengineshowdown.com/features
- Boolean Searching Works: True or False?
Boolean Logic, also referred to as True or False, uses AND/OR between terms to help either grab every or any phrase that you type in. To find out if the default on a search engine uses AND or OR, type in a search with an unusual term such as Sassafras and see how many responses come back (be sure to type AND and OR in all capital letters). If you then search Sassafras Herb, and the number of responses decreases, you know the search engine is "ANDing." If the number increases, the search engine uses OR as its default. To stay in context, use phrase searching by putting quotation marks around your terms, such as "Sullivan Technology". If results are poor, try adding an asterisk in between your words, such as "Sullivan * Technology". Google will replace each asterisk with any other words uncovered, possibly causing you to discover that the name of the business is Sullivan Lam Technology.
- Starting From Scratch
If you don't know the name of a company, you have a couple of options. You can do a keyword search and hope for the best or take advantage of some of the syntax tools available on most engines. If you type inurl: winery, you will get every indexed Web page that contains the term winery in the URL (Web) address. To narrow your results, combine the term with something more specific like a zip code or a state abbreviation. Another option is the phonebook tool for some search engines. If you type phonebook: winery in MSN's web search box you get 106 results, although the same search in Google produces zero hits. If you are looking for specific information on a company, try combining inurl: with an indication of file type. For instance, use inurl: Silver Plastics inurl:xls to capture a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet posted to the Internet by that particular company. Add in the term budget and it could become very interesting!
- Searching On The Range
You have to remember that in most cases search engines are literal. If you type in $5.00, the search engine will match results for $5.00. If you are trying to find the price range of a particular product and you don't know the exact figure, type in: digital camera $500..900. The two periods tell the search engine to look for a range or anything within that range. Drop the monetary sign for a different type of range, such as: Elvis Presley 1950..1960
- Getting To The Source
Another option for learning more about an industry is to make use of the online glossaries, associations or encyclopedias. On www.glossarist.com you can either search for a glossary or dictionary or you can pop into any of the listed categories and drill down to a more specific site. For example, under Economy and Finance you can choose between Insurance, Banking, Stock Market, Debt, Investment or Mortgage. Under Insurance, there are 46 glossaries and dictionaries listed. Many times, using resources indexed and categorized by industry experts increases your chances of finding the best Website. Another resource are vertical market portals or "vortals." One example would be www.platts.com, a Website devoted to what's happening in the energy industry. If you are looking for an association, go to a directory of associations such as the American Society of Association Executives, www.asaenet.org, and start your search there.
Use the best available tools at your disposal. This includes the Internet and possibly the telephone, your own Intranet or a live person. One speaker at a conference I attended talked about searching the Internet for the best breakfast spot near his hotel. He did find it but the next speaker got up and said he didn't spend his time researching at all. He asked the concierge and wound up in the same spot.
Denise Ryan has a Masters of Library Science and works as Manager of Quality Control at Nerac.