Drilling Down on Search Results

In my last two posts, I shared some tips for where you should start your research process (probably not a search engine) and how to get the most out of search engines.  Now let’s talk about working with your search results once you have them.

The main point is to avoid focusing only on the results themselves.  Instead, look for good industry, company, or topic-related sites.  For example, CafePharma has a lot of good information on pharmaceutical and medical device sales forces, ChannelWeb is a good resource for computer hardware and software distribution channels, and Construction Equipment Guide is pretty self-explanatory.  Trade sources are one of the best places to get in-depth information.  Some general business sites like Knowledge at Wharton and the McKinsey Quarterly can also be very useful.  Don’t be satisfied with just the listings from these sites that happen to come up on the search results.  Dig in.

First, narrow the search to the specific site in question by using the search engine “site:” operator or the advanced search page, depending on whether you prefer typing into the search box or using a form.  The search box is usually faster, but for complex queries, it can be easier to keep your thoughts straight when you have dedicated fields for different terms and operators on the advanced search page.

Second, for particularly promising sites, consider going through the site’s internal search.  Depending on the site, a public search engine may not do a great job indexing and retrieving all the relevant content on the site.  For example, Harvard Business Online has a lot of business school case studies that can make for great background reading, particularly on large companies.  However, most of them come in a few different versions that all come up on Google’s results for the site, making it very confusing to wade through them all.  In contrast, the internal search function on the site makes it much easier to find what you’re looking for.  Similarly, if you find a great presentation on SlideShare, it’s probably easier to look for others by searching on the site rather than restricting a Google search to the site.

Of course, you may need to register on some of these sites to access their full content – use a junk mail email account in most cases unless you are sure you want to hear from a publication or site longer-term.  Even with spam filters, unsubscribe options, and everything, I find that I’m somehow still receiving updates from Pulp & Paper Magazine over a year later.

Also keep your wits about you and avoid going down the rabbit hole on sites that might be only marginally related to your research project.  For example, I mentioned CafePharma earlier as a good resource on pharma sales.  On the flip side, the site’s message boards are also full of blustery posts where you can read gripping insider gossip that sometimes doesn’t amount to much usable information.  Similarly, I found the local message boards on Topix to be a useful resource for a project where I was evaluating the local reputation of a hospital, among other things.  The downside was once again wading through large amounts of gossip to get a little bit of context on the client.  In retrospect, my time would have been mostly better spent focused on my deliverables after the first 20 minutes.  If you’re finding that you’re reading as much for entertainment as for useful data, it’s time to move on.

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