A thorough and efficient search strategy involves more than typing a few keywords into Google. Knowing the right sources to check, as well as how content is provided within each source, is key to conducting a search that makes the most efficient use of time and resources.
For example, knowing where information is neatly packaged can be a real time-saver. For example, many companies are interested in employment data that is released each month by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s possible to migrate to that site, wade through a user interface that only a statistics geek could love, and uncover a data file that looks like it was typed in by hand. However, shooting over to the National Association of Home Builders’ HousingEconomics.com site would yield a formatted Excel that can easily be downloaded, manipulated, and integrated into an ongoing tracking database.
Similarly, being familiar with several go-to sources that track similar data points can help paint a consensus picture of a market or industry, rather than relying on one source that may be biased or saddled with unwanted qualifiers. As an example, comScore Networks, Nielsen, and several other sources all track consumer media and Internet utilization and penetration, but each defines demographic segments and behaviors slightly differently.
But it’s not enough to know where to find information. It’s imperative to use the proper search terms, and the proper industry terminology, including both correct and incorrect variants, will get you results more efficiently and also help you uncover information that can sometimes lie in “unsearchable” content, such as images or photos.
An interesting example comes from the music industry. When Leo Fender introduced his Stratocaster guitar in 1954, he erroneously named the floating bridge a “tremolo” unit. While tremolo is defined as “a rapid repetition of a single tone or by rapid alternation of two tones,” what the device on the instrument actually produced was “vibrato,” or “a rapid, slight variation in pitch.” While Fender’s initial name of the part was erroneous, the name stuck, and simply searching for “vibrato bridges,” “vibrato arms,” or the like, without using the more common term (“tremolo bridge”) may cause the search to miss important items, such as pictures, diagrams, or other unstructured content that is tagged only with “tremolo.”
But what happens when, after all of your best efforts have been exhausted, you can’t find the information you need? That’s where primary research kicks in. Make a few calls to expert sources, who can either a) provide you with the specified piece of information, b) tell you where to locate it, or c) offer directional information that may be useful in addressing your needs, and help you focus your efforts on a primary research project.