Effective Internet Searching | npENGAGE

Effective Internet Searching

By on May 8, 2012


Late last year, I presented a session for my local AFP chapter entitled Prospect Research for the Non-Researcher.  My intent was to focus on the basics: What is Prospect Research?  What types of information can a researcher typically find/not find out about a prospect?  How can a frontline fundraiser quickly, and for free, begin to do their own online research?  And, how can we assure our colleagues, executives and board members that the data we collect is legal and appropriate to use?

Of my 30 or so slides, I had about three devoted to doing an effective web search.  And, as the slide count may indicate, I was only intending to spend a few minutes talking about it.  Internet searching, as it turns out, was the “hottest” topic of conversation during my session.  And, I thought it would be helpful to share some of the tips we discussed with the ProspectResearch.com community.

First, a disclaimer:  while my search engine of choice is Google, other search engines do exist.  I encourage you to try a few before deciding on your own favorite.  This post includes Google-specific search tips which may or may not work on other search engines.  But, most search engines do provide their own tips, tricks and/or advanced search options.

My Top 5 Internet Search Tips are as follows:

  1. Use quotation marks (“  “) around phrases and names to search for the exact text that you enter.  Searching on my maiden name, for instance, (Melissa Bank) may yield a result where the text says: Melissa went to the bank.  Whereas searching on “Melissa Bank” will limit the results to instances where the words “Melissa” and “Bank” appear next to each other.
  2. Use an asterisk (*) to insert a wildcard.  Using my name again, let’s assume you didn’t know if I generally use (Melissa Bank Stepno) or (Melissa Stepno), a wildcard search will cover both.  This is a great tip when searching on names as it helps with both maiden names and middle initials.  Combine it with the quotation marks above to be even more specific: “Melissa * Stepno” 
  3. Use a minus/negative sign (-) to exclude results that contain a specific word.  This time, let’s say you are researching a prospect and quickly realize there is more than one person with the same name.  The minus sign gives you a way of narrowing your results.  For example, if I want to exclude references to the more famous Melissa Bank, who is a bestselling author, I could create a search that looks like this: “Melissa Bank” –author –book -library.
  4. Try the Advanced Search option (http://www.google.com/advanced_search) for even more flexibility.  Among other options you can limit results to specific languages, domains (i.e.: .org or .edu) or even how recently the page was published.
  5. Experiment with Google Alerts (www.google.com/alerts).  These free alerts will send you an email any time the keywords you select show up in new web content.  This can be helpful for individual prospects by name or company, specific program areas your organization supports, key legislation that may affect your work, etc.  Set-up is quick and you can specify the type of web content you are interested in (news, blogs, etc.), how often you want to receive the alerts (I have mine set up to once per day), how many you want to receive, etc.

The point is that the smarter your searches are, the better your results will be.  But, always, always keep in mind that even the best searches may turn up some false hits and that no search engine provides a complete inventory of the Internet! 

Happy Searching!

Melissa Bank Stepno is a consultant for Target Analytics. You may reach her at melissa.stepno@blackbaud.com.


Comments (2)

  • Great post Melissa. As a researcher, I assume that people would naturally know the basics of effective Google searching, but clearly based on your experience, that isn’t necessarily the case. Something for all researchers to consider when they work with front line fundraisers to empower them to conduct some basic research on their own.

    • Melissa Stepno says:

      Hi Liz,
      Thanks so much for your feedback!  Sometimes we all get stuck in our own ‘bubbles of expertise’ that we tend to forget that what comes naturally to us isn’t so natural to others.  I encourage you to share this directly with your fundraisers so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to help train them.
      Best, Melissa

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