Unlocking Google’s Hidden Potential as a Research Tool (Part 5 of 5)

August 31st, 2004

by

Originally published in MarketingProfs

Seek and ye shall find. But not always.

According to an IDC (International Data Corporation) report from last year, knowledge workers spend 15-30% of their day searching for information. What’s worse, more than half of their online searches fail.

That doesn’t bode well for us, does it? Hopefully, this series has gone a long way to help you make the invisibly rich Internet more visible. We close this series by tapping into the wisdom and experience of two renowned Google expertsâ??Nancy Blachman and Tara Calishainâ??who share some of their favorite tips, tools, insights, and search strategies for researching with Google.

Nancy Blachman is coauthor of How To Do Everything With Google (McGraw Hill 2003) and publishes the Google Guide e-book and Web site (www.googleguide.com). Tara Calishain is author of the just-released Web Search Garage (Prentice Hall 2004), coauthor of Google Hacks (O’Reilly 2003), and publishes the ResearchBuzz Web site (www.researchbuzz.com).

You will learn a lot from these two experts. But perhaps the biggest revelation will be what an amazing research tool Google Answers is. First, we’ll talk about where Google Answers fits into the marketer’s toolkit.

“Google Answers”: Your New Secret Weapon

I introduced you to Google Answers (answers.google.com) last week. You may recall that at the time, after nearly a week, I had not yet received any responses to my request for market research data for the frozen vegetables market.

Since then, I’ve received a bounty of market research information. I appended a clarification to my question, and suddenly I attracted some attention.

In that clarification, I asked whether the $5 fee I had set was too low. Indeed it was for such a research-intensive question, according to the Google Answers researcher codenamed “perfectanswers.” Nonetheless, perfectanswers proceeded to address the questions posed, and did it as a comment rather than an answer, which means this person did not receive any compensation for his/her work on my task. (View the extensive response from perfectanswers at answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=389841.)

Google Answers researchers are compensated by the person posing the question with a modest amount of cash, usually in just single or double digits. But sometimes a question will carry a compensation tag of $100 or $200.

If the response does not meet your standards, you can seek recourse with Google. With such a system in place, Google Answers researchers know better than to submit an answer that is incomplete or unverifiable. If the researcher isn’t confident that her response will pass muster, she will post the response as a comment rather than an answer.

If the answer to your question passes muster but you’d like another response, just repost your question. You will of course have to pay again. You can’t control who answers your questions; whoever is interested in answering, does so.

Some of us here at MarketingProfs wonder how Google Answers compares with our own Know-How Exchange. And here’s the answer: Google Answers is manned by professional researchers, whereas the Know-How Exchange is manned by professional marketers.

So if you are looking for a subjective opinion from an expert marketer, turn to the Know-How Exchange rather than Google Answers. If you are looking for other information, Google Answers is probably the place to turn.

Google Answers researchers probably won’t know the answers to questions offhand, but they will know how to find information that may contain the answers you need. Know-How Exchange experts may know an answer to your marketing question (or at least have an opinion about it), but they are unlikely to be experts at finding information they don’t know.

Q&A About “Answers”

Let’s hear from Nancy about her experiences with Google Answers.

Stephan: Do you recommend that marketers or market researchers use Google Answers, and if so, under what circumstances?

Nancy: Yes, it’s a wonderful service that doesn’t get the attention or traffic it deserves. If you are doing research for a client, make sure that the client doesn’t object to questions and answers being accessible through Google.

Stephan: Have you used Google Answers before? If so, please rate and describe your experience.

Nancy: Yes, I was reluctant to use Google Answers at first. I thought that I could find the information I wanted if I searched a bit longer. Now that I’ve used the service, I’m a big fan of it. Not only does it save me time, the answers are packed with useful information and links. It’s a wonderful service for getting information or opinions. I used it to get suggestions for how I could improve Google Guide.

Stephan: Any tips to share on how to get the most out of Google Answers?

Nancy: If you want to get a variety of answers, consider asking the same question more than once. A different researcher will answer it each time, so you may get a variety of answers. I did just that to get suggestions for how I could improve Google Guide. I posted my question four times and got three stupendous answers.

If you don’t get an answer within a day or so, consider adjusting the amount that you’re willing to spend. When you make such a change, you’re question gets treated as a newly posted question. The more you are willing to spend, the more likely a researcher will answer your question.

Choosing the Right Tool for the Job

Now let’s look at the wider landscape of Google-related tools and services with Nancy and Tara.

Stephan: For what sort of research tasks is a major search engine not well suited?

Nancy: The UC Berkeley Library has a wonderful chart for suggesting when to use a search engine, subject directory, specialized database, or an expert. It’s part of their “Finding Information on the Internet” tutorial, which can be found at www.lib.berkeley.edu/TeachingLib/Guides/Internet/Strategies.html.

Tara: A major search engine is not well suited to answer stuff like these interview questions! Mostly questions where you want to ask an expert several things, where you want to “pick someone’s brain.” Thankfully, the Internet can help you FIND the experts. If you have a situation where you need to explore only known and credible information, then you might want to use a paid search engine like LexNex or the friendly experts at your local library. You might be able to find what you need via a general search engine, but you’d have to use a subscription service to actually get to it.

Stephan: For what sort of research tasks is Google not well suited, but another major search engine is? Which search engine(s) do you turn to in such occasions?

Nancy: Good question. I just came across this page www.bcps.org/offices/lis/models/tips/searching.html that lists when to use which search engine. You can also find charts listing features of the most popular search engines: e.g., www.infopeople.org/search/chart.html.

Tara: Searchable Subject Indexes (Yahoo, DMOZ) are best for finding general topicsâ??famous people, or topics you can’t narrow down much. Search for George Washington in Yahoo and in Google and note the extreme differences in the kind of results you get.

Stephan: What are your favorite Google query operators, and why?

Nancy:

define: Shows definitions from pages on the Web. For example, [define:blog] will show definitions for “Blog” (weB LOG).

filetype: Restrict the results to pages whose names end with the specified suffix. For example, [interviewing salary negotiation filetype:pdf] restricts results to pdf documents with tips on job interviewing and salary negotiation.

allintitle: Restrict results to those containing all the query terms you specify in the title. For example, find a link to the wonderful widely circulated well-written fantasy “commencement speech” purportedly given by Kurt Vonnegut at MIT. The imaginary speech began “Wear sunscreen” with the query [allintitle: wear sunscreen].

site: Restrict your search results to the site or domain you specify. For example, find every page on a site that’s included in Google’s index. site:www.googleguide.com googleguide

location: Restrict your query on Google news to only articles from the location specified. For example, find news about John Kerry in one of the contested states [location:OH “John Kerry”].
Tara:

site: Helps me narrow down search a lot.

intitle: You know a page is focused on a topic when the topic word is in the title.
Stephan: Besides www.google.com, what are your favorite Google-owned Web sites, and why?

Nancy:

Google Answers (answers.google.com). I’m grateful to Google Answers researchers for their feedback and suggestions for improving Google Guide. Google Answers is a wonderful resource. I wish such a resource were available for hiring people to work in my house or on technical projects. I love that I can higher an expert without even knowing whom I’m hiring.

Google Sets (labs.google.com/sets). Automatically create a set of items from a few examples. Enter a few items from a set of things. Google Sets will try to predict other items in the set. For example, if you enter Golden Gate Bridge, Palace of Fine Arts, and Coit Tower, Google Sets suggests other places worth visiting in San Francisco. I’ve used Google sets to find potential coauthors and to get suggestions for things to eat for breakfast. I like the idea of creating a query by example.
Tara: I like Google News (news.google.com); I use it a lot. It’s got a great list of sources and now you can search by a date range.

Stephan: What are your favorite third-party applications that are based on Google?

Nancy:

Google Alert (www.googlealert.com)

GAPS (www.staggernation.com/cgi-bin/gaps.cgi)

Google Ultimate Interface (www.faganfinder.com/google.html)

Fagan Finder’s Translation Wizard (www.faganfinder.com/translate/)

FreshGoo.com (www.freshgoo.com)

Fagan Finder’s Search Tool

Google Blaster (www.googleblaster.com)

Soople (www.soople.com)

Search result evaluation checklist (www.lib.berkeley.edu/TeachingLib/Guides/Internet/EvalForm.pdf)
A Market Research Scavenger Hunt

I enlisted our guru Nancy to formulate search queries on a hunt for market research information for two industriesâ??bed & breakfasts and online car buying. The exercise was merely to gain an insight into her search term strategies.

Stephan: What Google search query would you use if you were looking for a list of the most popular guidebooks of B&Bs in the United States?

Nancy: “bed * breakfasts” OR “b&b” “U.S.” OR “United States” OR USA

Stephan: What search query would you use if you were looking for the number of bed and breakfasts in the United States?

Nancy: This is the search suggested by a Google Answers researcher: “bed * breakfasts in u.s.”

Stephan: What search query would you use if you were looking for the amount of money that bed and breakfasts in the United States spend per year on marketing?

Nancy: Again, I defer to the search strategy suggested by Google Answers, which is “bed * breakfasts in u.s.”

Stephan: What search query would you use if you were looking for the number of new cars purchased annually over the Internet in the United States?

Nancy: new cars purchased Internet in the “United States” OR “US” OR USA

Stephan: What search query would you use if you were looking for a list of the top few biggest sellers of new cars over the Internet by sales volume?

Nancy: sales cars purchased over the internet revenue cars purchased over the internet

Stephan: What would your search query be if you were looking for a fairly comprehensive market research report for a business plan of a virtual dealership of new cars that supports online purchase? (paid reports are fine; it doesn’t have to be free.)

Nancy: market research cars purchased over the internet

The Path to Google Greatness

Stephan: How does one assess the quality or credibility of the information produced by the search and various sources? Any practical tips beyond the obvious “buyer beware” type of advice?

Nancy: Google’s Web-page ranking system, PageRank, tends to give priority to better respected and trusted information. Well-respected sites link to other well-respected sites. This linking boosts the PageRank of high-quality sites. Consequently, more accurate pages are typically listed before sites that include unreliable and erroneous material. Nevertheless, evaluate carefully whatever you find on the Web since anyone can

* Create pages

* Exchange ideas

* Copy, falsify or omit information intentionally or accidentally

Many people publish pages to get you to buy something or accept a point of view. Google makes no effort to discover or eliminate unreliable and erroneous material. It’s up to you to cultivate the habit of healthy skepticism. When evaluating the credibility of a page, consider the following AAOCC (Authority, Accuracy, Objectivity, Currency, Coverage) criteria and questions, which are adapted from www.lib.berkeley.edu/ENGI/eval_criteria.html.

Authority

* Who are the authors? Are they qualified? Are they credible?

* With whom are they affiliated? Do their affiliations affect their credibility?

* Who is the publisher? What is the publisher’s reputation?

Accuracy

* Is the information accurate? Is it reliable and error-free?

* Are the interpretations and implications reasonable?

* Is there evidence to support conclusions? Is the evidence verifiable?

* Do the authors properly list their sources, references or citations with dates, page numbers or Web addresses, etc.?

Objectivity

* What is the purpose? What do the authors want to accomplish?

* Does this purpose affect the presentation?

* Is there an implicit or explicit bias?

* Is the information fact, opinion, spoof, or satirical?

Currency

* Is the information current? Is it still valid?

* When was the site last updated?

* Is the site well maintained? Are there any broken links?

Coverage

* Is the information relevant to your topic and assignment?

* What is the intended audience?

* Is the material presented at an appropriate level?

* Is the information complete? Is it unique?

Search for [evaluate web pages] or [hints evaluate credibility web pages] to find resources on how to evaluate the veracity of pages you view.

For a printable form with most of the questions that you will probably want to ask, visit www.lib.berkeley.edu/TeachingLib/Guides/Internet/EvalForm.pdf. For more information on evaluating what you find, visit www.lib.berkeley.edu/TeachingLib/Guides/Internet/Evaluate.html.

Tara: I give sites more credibility when they have their own domain (versus being set up on a free site like Geocities). I give more credibility when a site is updated regularlyâ??and by regularly I don’t mean once a year or so. I like having some kind of “about this page” set up on the site. I like when content updates are dated. I like when sites fully source some of their claims. Of course there are exceptions to rules, there’s great content set up on free Web sites, but these are my rules of thumb. And it also helps to have a really good BS detector. :->

Stephan: What one piece of advice about using Google as a research tool should the reader retain, if they remember nothing else?

Nancy: You can find quite a bit of information using Google. However, not all information on the Web is available through Google. If you don’t find what you want by using Google, try another search tool and/or ask Google Answers for help.