What is Boolean search?
Boolean search is a manual type of search that allows users to combine keywords with Boolean operators to produce more relevant results. It looks fancy on the screen but don’t get intimidated — it will take just a couple of trials before you start producing complicated search queries yourself.
When is it better to use Boolean search instead of a simple one?
Boolean search is used when you require stricter search criteria to eliminate unwanted results (for instance, if your brand name is a common word and your alert gets flooded with unwanted generic results instead of those relevant to your brand).
Boolean operators (i.e. Boolean search vocabulary)
Every Boolean search query is built using a combination of your keywords and special Boolean operators. So we’ll start with outlining these operators and then look into actual usage examples later in this article.
|” “||“Bank of America”||Quotation marks are used when you are searching for a specific word combination or an exact phrase.
In Boolean search, use quotation marks whenever your keyword consists of more than a single word.
|AND||Starbucks AND “latte macchiato”||AND means you are searching for documents that contain BOTH keywords (Starbucks, “latte macchiato”). Mentions of Starbucks only or latte macchiato only won’t be shown to you.|
|OR||Starbucks OR Costa||OR means you are searching for documents that contain either of keywords (either the word Starbucks or the word Costa, or both)|
|near/n:||near/4:James,Shaffer||Near/n specifies the closeness of your keywords to each other. This means the program will show you only the documents where keywords appear within n words away from each other. The word order doesn’t matter for this operator.
In the example you’re looking for mentions of James Shaffer but you allow up to 4 words inbetween the words James and Shaffer. So in your result you can get mentions such as “James “Munky” Shaffer” and “Shaffer whose name is James”. You can type zero and any positive number instead of 4.
|onear/n:||onear/4:William,Johnson||Onear/n specifies the closeness of your keywords to each other, while taking the word order into account.
While James Shaffer has a unique word order (we think), William Johnson definitely does not. To exclude any mentions of Johnson William but still allow all second names and nicknames, activate the operator that emphasizes the word order.
|AND NOT||Starbucks AND NOT London||AND NOT excludes documents that have a particular word/ particular words. In this case you’re telling the program to include all documents that have the word Starbucks in them AND don’t have the word London in them.
AND NOT should be used with the operator near/n for better results. If you’ve typed in simply Starbucks AND NOT London, the program will exclude all mentions that have the word London anywhere in the document, for the example in the “related articles” section. This way you might miss some relevant results. To make sure you don’t, specify that London shouldn’t be within 50 words from the word Starbucks. This way you exclude mentions of London that are from the same article.
|( )||“Marilyn Manson” AND (singer OR rock OR band)||Brackets are used to group terms together, so that operators like AND can be applied to all the terms in the brackets.|
|+” “||+”more & more”||Exact data search takes into account special characters and punctuation of your keyword (this is normally ignored) but ignores lower and upper cases.|
|++” “||++”L’Oreal”||Case sensitive exact data search takes into account special characters, punctuation, and lower and upper cases of your keyword.|
|Language search specifies the language of your results.
The first example will only launch results in English. The second example will only launch results in english and spanish.lang: operator can only be used with operators AND and AND NOT (never with OR).See the list of supported language codes
|In the first example, you’ll find any document that contains a link to site.com, including all its subdomains, pages, etc.
In the second example, you’ll find any document that contains a link to site.com, excluding the subdomains.
In the third example, you’ll find any document that contains a link to the exact page site.com/page
If your link contains quotation marks, include a backslash before each quotation mark that belongs to the link, as in the example.
How to create a Boolean search query?
The white box named Search query is where you are going to type your code. If you’ve typed anything in the simple search before you’ve clicked on Boolean search, you’ll get what you’ve typed in the Boolean format. You can delete everything there and start again manually, or you can edit the search query you already have.
Let’s take a couple of examples and go through the process of writing a Boolean search query together.
We want to find all mentions of a brand SEARHC (Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium). There are two reasons we want to use Boolean search in this case.
a) it’s an abbreviation, which means we’ll need a case sensitive search;
b) it looks like a misspelling of a word “search”, which is extremely common on the Internet.
How can we make sure the program only finds the abbreviation and not the misspellings? We make the search case sensitive by typing:
Notice that there is no space between the + signs and the quotation marks.
We want to find all mentions about the brand MORE & MORE.
Here the upper case isn’t actually important. As it is not an abbreviation, people are as likely to spell “more & more”. The thing we want to specify is “&”, as the simple search ignores symbols, and your keyword will be read as “more more” by the program. This will flood you with irrelevant mentions.
To avoid this situation, we use an operator that takes symbols into account, and type:
We want to find all documents that compare our brand to the brand of our competitor. We use the operator AND to specify that we need both brands in the same document.
Notice that the brand name SEO Powersuite is taken into quotation marks, as we are looking for a specific word combination. MOZ, on the other hand, is a one-word brand, so it doesn’t require quotation marks. You could also specify the case of the brand, and type in:
Here MOZ is taken into quotation marks, because they come together with the ++ operator. However, in this case you are likely to miss some mentions that come from social media, as users on social media tend to ignore the upper and lower cases. You will still find official reviews, though.
We’ve taken this example to show you how to use the operator AND. However, can you spot a problem with the example?
It’s this: although both brands will be found within the same document, they won’t necessarily be found within the same context. To find mentions of the same context, we should also make sure they are not too far away from each other. We use the operator near/n to do that.
The search string will look like this:
The number 20 means that there can be no more than 20 words inbetween the keyword SEO Powersuite and the keyword MOZ. You can type in any positive number or zero. Notice that there is no space anywhere in this search string.
We have an international brand, let’s say Coca-Cola (hey, this could happen) that has different names in English and in Russian due to the different alphabet.
This means that we have to find all mentions of Coca-Cola (and also Cola) in English, and all mentions of Кока-Кола (and also Кола) in Russian. The search query will look like this:
Notice that you need to apply the language filter to both Coca-Cola and Cola, so you have to take both words in brackets. The same happens in the russian part of the search query.
We want to find all mentions of our brand that don’t have a link to our website yet so that we can ask the authors to add the link. As you could probably guess, we need that for the SEO purposes. The search query will look like this:
We are looking for all mentions of the artist that has a second name or a nickname (Michael Jackson). Additionally, we are not interested in the online coverage of his most successful album Thriller.
This means we have to use an operator that respects the word order (name, surname) but allows words inbetween. Our search string will look like this:
Refine your alerts regularly.
Even with Boolean search, you might still get some irrelevant mentions. It’s hardly avoidable: machines can’t understand your intent. Yet. So after you’re given your first pile of mentions, look through them, and refine your alert by adding or excluding new keywords. Repeat that a couple of times until you start getting mentions you are satisfied with.
This is how you can easily use Boolean search operators to create laser-target alerts and filter any unnecessary mentions out. If there are any other cases you want us to advice on, please drop us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org