Research Tips for Small Business Owners
The internet is wealthy with information, with all degrees of accuracy and inaccuracy. Google and other search engines are constantly updating their search algorithms to improve the accuracy of our simple searches, to bring each of us the results that they deem most relevant to each person, for each search. So when you’re doing research, you may find that simply typing your keyword into the search bar isn’t bringing back quite what you wanted.
You may find yourself needing to research news about your industry or price comparisons for products and services your business needs. When conducting a SWOT analysis, you may need to do some research about your competitors, or even to see what people are saying about your own company! You might need some honest reviews about a company you’re seeking to do business with; you’ll probably want reviews from their customers and their partners, press releases they’ve published, and news stories about them. If you’re about to share something on your brand’s social media accounts, your due diligence before posting is to ensure the information you spread is accurate. Research skills can help you keep your feed free from inaccurate info.
Some of these tips are fairly basic, and widely known, but many of us forget to use them. If you’re a habitual Boolean searcher, you’re already a step ahead of many internet users. If you’ve never heard the word “Boolean” before, keep reading because it’ll be my first tip!
Tip 1: Boolean Search Operators
So here we are: Boolean. It’s so fun to type, I’m just going to keep saying it as often as I can. Boolean (Pronounced BOO-lee-an) Search Operators are words and symbols that can either narrow down or broaden your search. Here’s a really well explained short list of Boolean search operators that might change your life. The author/site owner Glen Cathy does an excellent job of explaining when to use these operators, and how to combine them in your searches to get the most relevant results.
The three basic word Boolean search operators are AND, OR and NOT. Yes, they should be capitalized like that when using them in Google or Bing, but when you’re searching within a website or forum, you might not always need to capitalize them; it depends on the site, but it's safe to always capitalize your Boolean operator words. AND will narrow down your search, giving you results that only contain both of the terms on either side of the AND. OR (must be used with parenthesis) will broaden your search, so you can run two similar searches at once. NOT will exclude the things you know you don’t want in your results.
Tip 2: Use a Private Window
Whether you use Google Chrome, Safari, Microsoft Edge (formerly Internet Explorer), Firefox, or another web browser, the site history and data it saves about your previous internet normally affects the search results you see. A basic (although not foolproof) way to prevent your previous searches from affecting your current research is to search using a private window. Searching using a private window will (for the most part) prevent your previous search history, cookies and other personal browsing data from influencing the search results.
The results will be more general for someone searching in your area, instead of being targeted to you based on your browsing and search history.
There are other reasons why you'd want to use private browsing in certain situations; if you're curious to learn more, here's a good Forbes article that covers the basics of private browsing. If you have a shortcut to your web browser in the bottom toolbar of your computer, you can right-click on that icon and open a new private window from the menu that pops up.
Especially when you’re searching for consumer opinion and complaints, people are more candid and conversational on these sites than typical review sites. You can find out how your product, service, or business fits into your customers' lives. Your research on these sites may also teach you why some people prefer your competitors' offerings over yours. This research may help you to further define your target market, so that future advertising campaigns may resonate better with your base demographic.
Don’t forget, you can still use Boolean search operators within some of these sites!