Can’t Find What You’re Looking For? Become an Expert Searcher

You’ll hear it time and again … much of web-writing success lies in your research. Research is what will set your writing apart and make it stand out. Research is what will keep you moving forward. Research prevents writer’s block.

With good research, you can provide truly outstanding content to your clients. And, that will have them coming back to you again and again. And, they’ll be more likely to share your name with their colleagues. Can you say referrals?

Some of the top copywriters spend as much as half their project time in the research phase. This is an area you definitely don’t want to skimp on.

But, research can be tough. It can be frustrating. It can be time-consuming. It can feel like no matter how hard you search for those elusive facts and insights you know you need, you’ll never find them.

In this article, I want to share some of the research strategies I use to dig deeper faster — and to come up with really valuable and surprising information.

A word about credible sources …

Before we dive into the search techniques that will help you make your writing as robust, persuasive, and believable as possible, I’d like to mention the importance of focusing on credible resources.

You can find just about any fact or figure online, but if you pull it from a member forum, a site that is a venue for advertising first and foremost, or a site that’s poorly written, then your writing will lose credibility.

To make your research as strong as possible, focus on government sites, university sites, peer-reviewed journals, reputable publications, and blogs written by people with a sterling reputation for honesty and credibility.

So, for example, if you were doing an article about web writing, Brian Clark’s Copyblogger is a good site while Joe’s Word World may not be the best choice for your research needs.

Rock Your Next Search Engine Session

When you’re doing Internet research on any topic, you want to use a blend of general keywords and long-tail key phrases.

The general keywords will help you get a broad overview on your topic from experts in the industry to breaking news to conventional wisdom to controversial opinions … all potentially useful for your writing project.

The long-tail keywords will help you drill down and discover specific, interesting, surprising information … the kinds of facts, figures, and opinions that will strike your readers as fresh and engaging.

Let’s take a look at how this works using a real example. I do a lot of health writing, so let’s say I’ve been given the topic of Alzheimer’s disease prevention.

That’s the first key phrase I’ll use in my research. When I do, I get millions of results, but the top 10 are generally from high-quality sites like the Mayo Clinic, WebMD, HelpGuide, and several well-known news outlets.

My next step is to read these articles (the top five or 10), and take notes. I’ll note general information that I need to include in my writing to establish credibility, similar points made between the articles, and questions that the articles raise. I’ll also note any interesting keyword phrases. For example, in one of the WebMD articles, the writer briefly discusses “damage to the nerve cells.” During my next phase of research, I might use Alzheimer’s disease + “damage to the nerve cells” as one of my search terms.

During phase two of my research, I’ll use those long-tail key phrases like the one above. I’ll also type in the questions that I generated during phase one. For example, while reading an article on Mayo Clinic, I came away with the question, “How is Alzheimer’s linked to heart disease?” That becomes a new search term in phase two.

After phase one and phase two, you should have some very good broad information, as well as a number of interesting and lesser-known facts you can use to make your writing stronger. But, don’t stop there.

In phase three, I fall down the rabbit hole of Internet research. That means that I stop directing my search from the search engine and start following links in the articles I found in phases one and two. During this phase, you can find some really fascinating and useful stuff … the kind stuff that your readers will salivate over because it’s completely new to them. You just follow where the links take you and see what you come up with. Like I said, the results are often surprising, and from a writer’s perspective, that’s a good thing.

To make searches even faster and more targeted, I recommend a couple more tips — use quotes and minus signs in your searches. While searching for Alzheimer’s prevention, for example, I might get a lot of results that talk about huperzine A. If I know I don’t want to write about huperzine A, I can include –huperzine A in the search field to keep those results from appearing. Quotes will get you results that match your search term exactly and are very useful for zeroing in on what you’re looking for.

Now, let’s move on to a few of my favorite advanced search techniques …

Advanced Search Tips for Google

One of my favorite search techniques on Google is to use site search. Basically, this limits your search to a specific domain name. That means if you have a source that you really like to work with or you’re certain you’ve seen something on a particular site, you can limit your Google search to that site.

It’s simple. Just include site:www.domainname.com after your search phrase. Obviously replace “domainname” with the site’s actual domain.

A second that I use is Google’s file type search. Like the site search, you include a phrase like filetype:pdf or filetype:ppt to limit the types of files returned.

A third advanced technique on Google is synonym search. Put a tilde (~) before your search term and Google will search for it and its synonyms.

Advanced Search Tips for Bing

If you’re using Bing to do your research, make sure you explore Bing’s Related Searches. You may come across some interesting and useful information by following those links.

You can limit your searches to file types on Bing like you can on Google, but the structure of the command is different. To limit your search to file types, use contains:[file type] after your search phrase, but put your file type extension in the square brackets.

You can also have Bing search web page titles only for your keywords and phrases. To do that use intitle:[keyword] as your search term. Of course, use your actual keyword instead of the word “keyword.”

On Site Searches

If you’re using the site search feature on a specific website, you can find what you want faster by using quote marks. Try to think of obscure phrases that sum up the type of information you’re trying to find. For example, sticking with my Alzheimer’s prevention scenario, I might want to know more about ginseng berries and how they can help with Alzheimer’s. Rather than enter a generic search term like ginseng + Alzheimer’s, I want to be more specific, so I would enter something like “ginseng berry extract” + Alzheimer’s. Fewer articles will talk about the berry extract versus ginseng, so this will help me find what I need faster.

If you’re looking for something you’ve read before, think about specific, unique words or phrases you remember from the article and use those as your search terms.

Remember, research is well worth your time. It can make the difference between a standout piece and something that’s merely acceptable. It can also help you work faster when it comes to your actual writing. So spend some time, explore different terms, and see what you come up with. It may just be copywriting gold.

This article, Can’t Find What You’re Looking For? Become an Expert Searcher, was originally published by Wealthy Web Writer.

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Published: July 4, 2012

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