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How to Zero In on the Specific News You Need the Most

June 8, 2007

If you are paying attention, you’re already using news alerts to stay up-to-date on your business, your competitors, your industry and your Parcheesi club. Want a trick that will make your news alerts more targeted and powerful?

Using the Asterisk to Improve Searches and Alerts

News Alerts are easy to create if your topic is straightforward. For instance, if your customer is “Ball Aerospace” or your industry is “lumber products” all you have to do is to remember to put quotation marks around your terms and you are pretty much home free. (For an introduction to News Alerts, read “News Alerts Make YOU the Expert” )

But what if you need a news alert for a topic that doesn’t fit into an easily captured phrase? For instance, what if you’d like to keep up-to-date on the general issues surrounding “influence” and “persuasion?” Whether it’s in politics, business or All-Star balloting, the science of influence and the process of persuasion is increasingly leaving its imprint on our daily lives.

The problem is that you can’t simply do a news alert for either of those words or your inbox will be flooded. Testing them in the Google News search box we get:

Influence – 74,041 results
Persuasion – 1,650 results

Since Google searches the last 30 days of news in thousands of newspapers across the world, that would mean that your news alerts would capture close to 2,500 alerts per day for “influence” and 55 per day for “persuasion.” No one has the time for that much information.

The solution would seem to be to do an alert for both words – limiting your results to articles where both words are mentioned. A search for both terms returned 159 results in our test, which means you could expect an average of 5 alerts per day, perhaps a manageable number.

The problem is that even though you’ve reduced your results, you haven’t reduced the irrelevant ones. For instance: You could get this alert for “Real Estate Sales Tumble in June:”

Home buyers are of the persuasion to wait out the latest economic slowdown in Quebec. More people are just giving up, and the influence of those decisions could be catastrophic for the building industry.

This is not, of course, what you had in mind. It happens because Google and other search engines are not very smart – they just look to see if your words appear ANYWHERE on the page.

In order to avoid this, we could pair them by doing an alert for “influence and persuasion,” (the quotation marks are necessary) but that would give us only articles that have that exact phrase: “influence and persuasion.” We’d see only 2 or 3 news alerts cross our desk each month. Thankfully, they’d usually be relevant, but we’d miss a lot of other good stuff.

If you want to make your search for current news about these two topics hit more pay dirt, you’ll have to use what are called “Google Wildcards” (we’ll use Google because the statistics show that over 60% of you are using Google, more than twice as many as are using their distant search competitor, Yahoo).

A “wildcard” holds the place of a word and substitutes for any word. It’s very much like a blank square in Scrabble, only it substitutes for a whole word. The symbol you need to use for a wildcard is the asterisk symbol (*), which sits proudly above the number “8” on your keyboard.

Quotation marks are again necessary when using wildcards – like this:

“influence * persuasion”

Such a news search or news alert will retrieve for you articles that include phrases like:

“influence and persuasion”
“influence without persuasion”
“influence through persuasion”
“influence, power, persuasion”

You get the idea. In fact, the week we did our example news searches “influence and persuasion” did return two results – and both were good results. However, it missed one that “influence * persuasion” added. This article was from the Vancouver Sun about a Canadian political issue that included the phrase, “influence through persuasion.” The whole sentence was:

Their game was “soft power,” influence through persuasion, peacekeeping and diplomacy.

Think about it. If influence and persuasion is your topic – then this reference to “soft power” might well be vitally important to you.

When we further searched “soft power” in Google the first result was a Wikipedia entry on the topic:”

Soft power is a term used in international relations theory to describe the ability of a political body, such as a state, to indirectly influence the behavior or interests of other political bodies through cultural or ideological means.

As an expert in influence and persuasion, you might well already know about “Soft Power,” but you might not. More importantly, those reading your blog or newsletter may need a little brushing up on it! And, the term itself could be creatively borrowed to describe a topic in your own materials about influence and persuasion, even if those materials are not politically oriented.

No matter what your topic or interest, try using wildcards on your next search or news alert. You’ll get fewer results, which will save you time. You’ll also get more targeted and more powerful results, which will make you look like a genius.

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