How to Research like the Boss that You Are

Google.  That is how I started my first venture — a nonprofit organization.  I used Google to find a free course taught by the state.  I then used Google to find, download, and complete the 501(c)3 tax exemption application.  I Googled to learn about building a Board of Directors, how to structure the Board, what documents my Board should sign, and to read lessons learned by those that had come before me.  Finally, I used Google to build my first volunteer / mission trip — from contracts, documents, orientation, best practices, legal issues, safety, and organizations that we could work with.

Google is the cornerstone of the savvy business owner.  The big secret to starting a business you love isn’t having an MBA and years of experience with shiny titles from the corporate world.  It’s having the passion to drive you forward, and the ability to find the answer to any question you have.  Having a Coach to help you is definitely the most comfortable way to go, but Google is always available and can help you do anything.

Just this morning at a coffee networking event, I heard someone say, “I was up late working on my project because I’m not good at Googling”.  It’s not the first time I’ve heard this, but it reminded me that I take my ability to Google for granted.

So here’s my quick guide for getting good at Googling.

Strip It Down

The people I see struggle with Google give it too much information.  Google, like the library search system you may have learned in elementary school (am I aging myself?), doesn’t care about transitional words like “and” or “but”.  However, it loves “or” to help you compare two things.

Don’t try asking Google a question.  Just enter the keywords of what you’re searching.  The person I was instructing this morning was looking for help on coding a form which wasn’t working.  I told him to definitely include the main subject — C# (the coding language) — and the action he was having an issue with, forms.  From there, I told him to describe the issue in as few words as possible.

If At First You Don’t Succeed, Use Synonyms

Using the above example in a search, I further instructed the person to start rotating words if he wasn’t finding what he was looking for.  The constants in your search are the main subjects — in his case, the coding language and the action he was having issues with.  Everything else can be swapped.

Let’s use my nonprofit as an example.  I needed to know how to file for tax exemption.  Finding the form was easy enough — I knew it was an IRS form and it was labeled “501(c)3 application”, so those where the words I entered.  But I work best by example, so the next thing I needed were other nonprofit examples of the different sections within the form, specifically for organizations specializing in my field.

This is where I started rotating words.  I didn’t care if the examples came from the IRS, so I left that word out.  I could have searched “501(c)3 application examples”, but I probably would have gotten a lot of really general examples, some good, some bad.  So I changed my wording to “501(c)3 applications disaster relief”.  It’s not an actual sentence, but just a bunch of keywords.  That’s how Google operates, and that’s the most important thing for you to learn.

If the results weren’t quite what I was looking for, I could have tried changing “disaster relief” to “relief organizations” or “humanitarian aid”.  This is where the synonyms work great.  My constant would always be “501(c)3 application” because that’s what I was working on, but the rest could swap out until I found what I was looking for.

Hack Google’s Search Options

There are several other things you can do within the search bar of Google, but Google doesn’t publicize them well.  I call them hacks, but they’re actually refinement options that make your search even more specific.  If the subject you’re researching is very narrow due to your nice, business structure, or innovation, then narrowing your search is a bad idea.  However, the internet is vast, and narrowing is usually very useful.

Here is Google’s fabulous guide for using their search refining hacks.  You can search specific sites only, exclude words that seem to come up in the options Google gives you but don’t fit your goal, and even force Google to focus on a certain word within your search.

Get Into Other’s Heads

My final tip is to try to get into other people’s heads.  This can be hard to do, but this is how I do it.  I think about the topic I’m searching, then consider every way I have ever heard it referred to by others.  That might include in-person experiences, television shows, conferences, radio, and dialectal variations.  Living in the United States means I have heard many ways to refer to everything.  In doing so, my mind doesn’t actually remember specific moments, but it pulls up a rotation of ideas and words.

I also try to dumb down my searches.  Not only am I stripping them of extra words, but I am using the simplest words and phrases.  Most web designers and copy writers suggest your online content be at a 5th Grade reading level.  If that’s the case, then the words you’re searching for are also at a 5th Grade level (because all Google is able to search are the words put online).

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