Digital PRs need a really broad set of skills to enable them to create compelling stories, pitch them to the right people and land placements that positive affect their clients’ and their own web presence.

One of the most simple of those skills – but one that’s hugely powerful – is the ability to use advanced search operators.

Advanced search operators allow you to manipulate the way Google searches its own index to give you the most useful results for your specific purposes. Here, we’ll share some of our favourites; feel free to suggest more in the comments to the bottom!

Note: there are lots more advanced search operators than the list you’ll see here, but these are intended specifically to help those working in digital PR.

Advanced search operators for PR prospecting

One of the things we need to do pretty much daily as digital PRs is prospecting. By this, we mean the process of identifying the best person to pitch our story to. It’s about working out who’s writing on similar topics and therefore most likely to be interested in what we’ve got to say.

Here’s an example of how we can use a combination of a site search (add site: to the beginning of a URL in the search bar to force Google to search that site, and that site alone) and exact match search (the use of speech marks to force Google to search for the exact phrase in the exact word order):

site:dailymail.co.uk “working from home”

In this example, we force Google to search the Daily Mail website for the words working from home and the results will show us all instances of that phrase appearing on the Daily Mail.

Let’s say ours is a story about working from home, and we want to place it in the Mail; logic suggests that if we can see who’s writing about working from home on the Daily Mail already, that journalist is most likely to be interested in our story – so we’d look at that article, find the journalist’s name and contact them, rather than going through a broad “tips@” or news desk email address.

We can add complexity to this, if we like, in order to perform a more granular search for more specific results. For example, by adding in the words AND or OR, we can force Google to search for a combination or selection of terms, as shown here:

site:dailymail.co.uk “working from home” AND “study” OR “research”

If ours is a story about a study looking at people working from home, the above search on Google will provide us with articles on the Daily Mail which refer to working from home and the words study or research – so we know those journalists are open to using study based content.

You can also use this approach to search for a journalist’s name on a site; let’s say you’ve identified one person as the potential target for your campaign, you might want to double check their relevance to your content by searching for their name across that site, then you can see how much they write about that topic and shape your approach to them accordingly.

Advanced search operators for campaign inspiration

Another way to use advanced search operators in digital PR is to get inspiration for your campaigns.

It can be really handy to run regular searches or even set up alerts through Google Alerts and similar platforms to receive notifications of content going live that’s relevant to you.

Let’s say you’re doing some ideation for your brand/client. You’ve got a topic in mind, let’s say travel, and you want to know what kind of stuff has been working well relating to travel before. You can use some simple terms that tend to pop up quite a lot in PR campaigns to quickly find travel relevant PR content, such as:

“travel” AND “study” OR “research” OR “revealed” OR “mapped” OR “map”

The above example will show you pages which refer to travel and also use the words study or research or revealed or mapped or map – these all being words that crop up fairly often in the wonderful world of digital PR!

You can also use advanced search operators to see how your/your clients’ competitors are being referred to across the web and to get inspiration from them. To do this, you might search for the brand name, using the example above, or you could add the minus sign to the site: search to specify results where the competitor name has been used outside of their own sites, or other common sites. For example:

“go compare” OR “gocompare” -site:gocompare.com -site:twitter.com -site:facebook.com -site:linkedin.com

The above will show you instances of the brand Go Compare being referenced across the web but not including their own site or social profiles.

(As a side note, Go Compare tend to do some really cool digital PR campaigns so it’s well worth checking them out!).

Advanced search operators to track your campaigns

One of the challenges we face as digital PRs is in tracking our campaigns once they’re live. On the one hand, we’ve got tracking tools like Ahrefs and Buzzsumo which will show us new links to our campaign pages, and that’s good (though not 100% accurate, hence why so many of us use a combination of tools in conjunction).

But what if your campaign is picking up unlinked mentions? These link tracking tools won’t pick up unlinked mentions, but you’ll definitely want to so you can do your link reclamation. Here’s where an advanced search operator can help.

Let’s say your campaign is for Go Compare and it’s about how much to tip when travelling (it’s a real campaign, check it out!). In this case, you’d want to search something like:

“go compare” OR “gocompare” AND “how much to tip” OR “tipping abroad” OR “tip advisor” -site:gocompare.com -site:facebook.com -site:twitter.com -site:linkedin.com

The above is going to give you all the instances of the brand name plus various ways the campaign might be referred to, minus their own site and their own social profiles.

If you’re doing any kind of newsjacking activity (pitching comments into the press in response to topical stories), you might want to search for / create alerts for instances where your/your client’s name is featured outside of their own site, e.g:

“laura hampton” AND “impression” OR “digital PR” -site:impression.co.uk -site:linkedin.com -site:facebook.com -site:twitter.com

The above will show instances of Laura Hampton being referenced alongside the words Impression or digital PR outside of social media and the Impression site itself.

Advanced search queries for competitor analysis

Of course, everything mentioned above can be used to do competitor research, too.

Consider searching for your competitors’ brand names, names of key spokespeople and so on, to find out what they’re up to and draw inspiration for your own campaigns, too.

And there you have it! Hopefully these are useful to you; if you have any more advanced search queries you use in digital PR, feel free to drop them into the comments box below and we’ll update the blog post with our favourites.

Laura Hampton

Head of Digital PR

Head of Digital PR at Impression working with colleagues and clients to deliver link acquisition campaigns that support SEO visibility and wider marketing goals. Regular speaker at industry conferences and contributor to industry publications. In my spare time, I jump out of planes.

Laura has specialist knowledge in Digital PR and Content Marketing.

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