The average user heads to Google, types some characters in a text box, and hits enter. As the basic field, whether viewed within a browser toolbar or within Google’s website, remains the same, people often assume that Google hasn’t changed much over the years.
In reality, Google has evolved rapidly and now offers a variety of integrated tools to refine your searches and help you find the information you need in the context you need it. These useful tools are perfect for PR professionals, researchers, and journalists as it saves the time and effort it takes to do research, no matter the subject.
Even frequent users and search specialists regularly overlook some of Google’s most useful features. Take a look at our list of these handy tools:
When you perform a search, Google rarely takes your text at face value. Instead, it might suggest alternative spellings, provide some results based on synonyms and other grammatical forms of the words you typed (e.g. “shop” for “store” or “shopping” for “shop”), or display results with similar terms.
However, you can use the Verbatim tool to have Google search only for the specific terms you entered. This is particularly useful in situations in which Google gets the context of your search wrong, displays searches with synonyms that distort your intended meaning, or favors the type of content you want to avoid (e.g. news articles). By using the Verbatim tool Google will not make the following changes:
• Personalizing your search using websites you have visited before;
• Including synonyms of your search terms;
• Automatic spelling corrections;
• Searching for words with the same stem e.g. “Shopping” when searched for “shop”;
• Finding results that match similar terms to those in your query.
To use Google’s Verbatim, perform your search by typing in the text bar as normal and hitting enter to reach the search results page. Underneath the main search bar on the right-hand side you will see a “Search tools” button. Click it, look for the drop-down menu titled “All results,” and choose “Verbatim” from the list.
A very common example of this is when you type in “Parole evidence” without Verbatim enabled; Google automatically changes this to “Parol” and naturally, the searches become different. Even the most eagle-eyed professionals might not notice this change until they have clicked through a number of the search results.
Below shows the exact same search term but with “Parole” unchanged. Google does suggest the change, but, most important, it searches for “Parole.”
Literal searches are hugely important for journalists, as these kinds of search will not correct spelling or include synonyms. For journalists, Verbatim becomes a less tedious way of searching for exactly what is wanted without having to include quotation marks around what is wanted. Put simply, the verbatim tool is an easier option for PR pros who want a focused search.
If you’d like to get more-specific results, you can filter the results by location or by date. To do that, simply click on “Web” and then on “The web” to choose location and on “Any time” to choose a custom date range. This filter can be used in combination with all of Google’s tools.
Google Reading Level
The Google reading level tool is excellent for PR professionals to filter the content you want, based on your own knowledge levels and the type of content you are writing (e.g., a presentation, article, or white paper).
You can tailor your results to a particular reading ability using the “Reading Level” functionality within Google. Once you have activated this option, you can choose from Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced levels of understanding, meaning that Google only pulls through resulting websites with content written at that particular level. This comes in useful in situations where you’re looking for higher-level scientific research on a topic, information that is likely to be less biased, or assessing if you’ve written a piece at the correct reading level for the intended audience.
To change Google’s reading level option, enter your search term and click through to the results page as usual. As before, click the “Search tools” button and from the “All results” drop-down menu, choose “Reading level”:
You will then be offered three sets of results (Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced), with the percentage of the total results displayed next to each.
We used the search “E numbers” to compare results. When looking at the “Basic” reading level results, there were greater numbers of irrelevant results (such as music-related websites) in addition to articles specific to a certain brand or newspaper:
Upon switching to the “Advanced” reading level material, the list of results was focused around government and regulated health websites, all of which were directly concentrated around relevant food additives results. From these it’s much easier to find original sources of statistics and official regulations with less bias towards commercial intent:
The Google Discussions feature enables you to narrow your search results to forums, groups, and Q & A sites. This comes in handy when you’re looking for opinions, attitudes, or other forms of crowd-sourced information, especially as you can control how recent you want your results to be—perfect for comparing attitudes at particular times or browsing the latest viewpoints. The Discussions tool can also be used to gauge the level of interest in a specific topic and determine how much attention it has recently received.
After entering your search term and clicking through to the results, simply click “More” underneath the Google search bar and select “Discussions” from the drop-down:
Our search for “uk economy” initially displayed news and media from large national organizations. Switching to “Discussions” makes it easy to tap into current opinion and debate from individuals and small groups instead. You can also filter the results by date if you’d like to get up-to-date discussions or maybe discussions in a specific date range (e.g., UK economy discussions from last week, last month, last year).
Search with the discussion filter
Google’s Patents search is perfect for in-depth research on scientific and technological developments. After clicking through to the results page for your search, click the “Search tools” button and choose “Patents” from the resulting menu, as below:
This will instantly provide you with advanced patent results; perfect for researching every detail and establishing potential legal implications of new and advancing technologies.
Google Images is a very useful tool for research as you can run a search through Google database and see where a specific image has been used. Even if you only have a picture from a newspaper and want to find more information about that specific topic, you can simply scan the image and run it through Google Images, and it will show you all the articles, blog posts, and absolutely every Web page where that image has been used. Whether you’re a PR professional, a researcher, or a journalist looking for more information on a subject and only have an image as a starting point for your research, Google’s Images tool can make it easier to find every piece of information on it.
To find images, you can either search by pasting an image URL or by uploading an image from your computer.
The final tool in our selection is the Google Blogs feature. It’s just as straightforward as it sounds and enables you to limit your search query to blogs. Recent research has shown that there are over 5 million active blogs that offer researchers a fantastic resource to find fresh and relevant search results from millions of feed-enabled blogs.
This tool can be used to get personal opinion pieces and find suitable contacts for quotes, reviews, and interviews without having to trawl through large commercial sites. For many researchers, the demands on time are increasing, and being able to source relevant information from a number of sources is vital.
After performing your search, click the “More” link underneath the search bar and choose “Blogs” from the resulting drop-down menu to activate the feature:
Give these tools a try, and please offer your feedback in the comments section.
Alexandra Gavril blogs at Heartinternet.co.uk and is a social media fanatic. She’s motivated by three things: helping small businesses get started online, original use of social media, and, coffee.