By William Comcowich—Boolean search queries are a powerful and easy-to-use tool to improve your search results. This article will teach you how to use them.
Public relations measurement and marketing teams may subscribe to a media monitoring service to find mentions of their brands in news and social media. But many companies miss mentions because they aren’t using the best search strategies. Even worse, they may be inundated with irrelevant mentions about companies or brands with similar names in different industries.
The use of Boolean search queries can assure more accurate media monitoring results. It’s especially useful in eliminating extraneous results. Some PR and marketing folks may cringe when they hear they should use “Boolean,” thinking it’s some sort of geeky computer solution that’s beyond their skills. It’s not. The art of constructing Boolean search queries is actually quite easy to learn and master. Mainstream search engines like Google and Bing as well as social media monitoring services such as CyberAlert permit Boolean searches.
Boolean Search Terms Explained[emember_protected for=2-3-5 custom_msg=’This article requires a subscription. Sign up now and get 30 days of free access to the world’s best source of knowledge and insight about measurement. Or log in if you’ve already signed up.’]
Simply put, Boolean search involves words like AND, OR, and NOT, and punctuation like parenthesis and quotes. In the Google search engines, the connecting words must be in all caps.
AND — Write AND between search terms to require the search results to include both words in any order. If you enter the search term Dove, you’ll see results for the bird, the soap, personal hygiene products, and a nonprofit foundation, among other unrelated results. Boolean search narrows results to your desired outcome. If you input Dove AND chocolate, you’ll receive results that contain both words, leading with Dove Chocolate.
OR — OR will produce results containing any of the words connected by OR. If placed between several words or phrases, results will display pages with one, several, or all of the words. You can use OR to search for nicknames, abbreviations, and common misspellings of your company and its products, as in Wal-Mart OR Wallmart OR Wally Mart. Including OR in queries is especially useful in social media, given the preponderance of abbreviations and misspellings.
NOT — Place NOT before a word to exclude the word from results. That’s a useful technique to eliminate irrelevant results. If your company name or other search term is identical to an unrelated term, perhaps another company in an unrelated industry, use NOT to exclude undesired results. The search term Volkswagen may not require NOT terms to eliminate unrelated results, but Lincoln certainly does. Example: Lincoln AND (auto OR car OR dealer OR etc.) AND NOT (president OR penny OR emancipation OR St. OR Ave.)
If you’re researching what consumers are saying about a product online, you can use NOT to exclude the company’s own online comments, since those results would skew research results. In some search engines, the minus sign replaces the word NOT.
Quotes and Dashes — Use double quotation marks for searches for exact phrases. When you search without putting search terms in quotes, many results will be separated by other words, sometimes many other words. That may not be what you’re seeking. Placing the words in quotes will yield that exact phrase – and it that exact order, as in “Wal-Mart sucks” or “College of the Holy Cross”. Phrases can also be expressed in many search engines with dashes between words, as in University-of-Michigan.
Parenthesis — Parentheses group terms together so operators like AND and NOT can be applied to all the terms in the brackets. For instance, Dove AND chocolate AND NOT (soap OR lotion OR beauty) will exclude mentions of the beauty products.
NEAR — A proximity operator, NEAR returns results when two or more words are close to each other. You determine the maximum number of words separating the search terms. For instance, if you seek Dove within five words of “soft skin”, you would enter something like: Dove NEAR/5 “soft skin”. The NEAR operator helps narrow results when different brands are discussed in the same post.
In some applications, the tilde, the ~ sign on the top left of your keyboard, can be used as the proximity operator. Place quotation marks around the search terms and a number after the tilde to indicate the maximum number of words between the keywords. For instance, “Dove skin”~5 will return sites with those words separated by no more than five other words. Some of the major search engines do not support proximity operators.
Additional Filters — Many search engines and media monitoring systems allow you to apply additional filters based on geographic location, social media channels, language, and other factors.
Companies with difficult-to-search keywords or acronyms may wish to investigate the power of regular expressions (REX) to purge irrelevant search results. Used in addition to Boolean queries, REX statements can add greater specificity to a search query and permit even more precise search results. For example, REX statements can specify initial caps as in Orange, the French mobile phone service, thereby ignoring all mentions of orange with a lower case. Another REX statement specifies all caps as in acronyms (which is especially useful if your acronym is also a common word). Among many other capabilities, REX statements can also stipulate the number of times a keyword must appear in an article. REX statements often solve long-standing search problems. The major search engines don’t typically support REX statements. Among media monitoring services, CyberAlert can include a full range of REX statements in its client queries.
A Boolean query is mandatory for any acronym since most every three or four-letter acronym represents multiple organizations. Boolean queries are also very useful in sorting out clips for specific divisions, departments, or geographic areas. For example, legal would have a specific set of Boolean terms plus the corporate or brand names.
A query for legal threats of a bank, then, could be constructed as:
([Name of Bank] OR [Nicknames of Bank] OR [Stock Exchange Symbol] OR [Names of Executives]) AND (litigation OR legal-action OR legal-issue OR class-action OR lawsuit OR filed-suit OR charges OR trial OR subpoena OR inquiry OR examination OR probe OR investigation OR alleged OR deceptive OR fraud OR warning-letter OR lawyer OR attorney OR lobbyist OR money-laundering OR capital-requirements OR corporate-governance OR Securities and Exchange Commission OR SEC OR Federal-Deposit-Insurance-Corporation OR FDIC OR Federal Reserve Board OR Office-of-the-Comptroller-of- the-Currency OR Dodd-Frank OR stress-test OR settlement OR pact OR hacked OR customer-data OR data-loss OR credit-agency OR tax-evasion OR off-shore-accounts)
The same principle can be applied to countries. Combine AND with the name of the country to sort and deliver relevant clips to country managers. Boolean requires using foreign language terms for generic words if searching for clips from the foreign country.
Brands can use Boolean search techniques to search for problems and risks by using problem terms or terms that denote anger such as “sucks.” Thus, a complaint query would read: ([Name of Company] OR [Nicknames of Company] OR [Stock Exchange Symbol] OR [Names of Executives]) AND (sucks OR stinks OR useless OR lousy OR stupid OR worthless OR [etc.])
Bottom Line: Boolean search queries can improve your media and social media monitoring results, uncover mentions of your brand and exclude irrelevant results.