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Keyword dreams!!

profilemoe1.jpgSome of you may know that I am somewhat of a sourcing geek. Well, last night I had a sourcing dream to prove it. I was dreaming about keywords. If that don’t beat all. I can’t have normal dreams like other people. I have to dream about search related stuff.

Anyway, I guess you’d like to know about my dream. In my dream I was having this discussion with other recruiters about what was more important to effective searching on the web. Whether it was Keywords, Boolean or the tools you used them on. I argued that keywords are such a big part of searching that it is easy to overlook how important they are to the search process. Without the use of keywords we wouldn’t be able to communicate with either databases or search engines effectively.

The other recruiters in my dream made strong cases for the use of boolean or the advanced knowledge of search engines and for strategies but I came out of my dream convinced that by mastering the use of keywords we advance the cause of our search far more than with any of the other items they argued for, after all, it was my dream right?

I thought I would present my case here, at least here I’m not really talking to myself, I hope. Anyway, my thought is that it is thru the use of keywords that we communicate to the search engine what information we intend to get out of it. But that is not where it ends. It is not as simple as typing your words on the search box and immediately finding your perfect candidate! Did you know that keywords are neither seen nor read by the search engine in the same that way we see or read them? To a search engine a keyword is just a string of characters. Using something like “@#$#&)”, or “7364639”, or “keyword” are all the same to a search engine. It can’t distinguish between a string of symbols, numbers or actual letters.

It is difficult to get anything out of a conversation when the other party is taking your words and taking the meaning completely out of them. How do you expect to get good results out of a search string when you may now know how the search engines read your keywords.

Just think of it. A search engine doesn’t recognize that when you enter a word like “kids” that a good result might also be “children”. Remember to a search engine “kids” is just a string of characters. Instead it just matches each character in your keyword to bring only those results that include the word “kids”. Search engines typically compile a thesaurus like file/program to overcome this limitation. (I’m over simplifying here. It is an complex set of algorithms much more complex for me to understand!.) They use this file/program when the search string contains commonly used terms that are associated with our keyword; it then reflects them as a hit on your results. This gives us the impression that it’s searching what we intended to find. More commonly though this file/program displays associated words rather than synonymous terms. So rather than returning results based on your keywords it is returning those pages that have your keywords found within it as well as other pages that have any of those other words that are typically associated with your keyword.

A search engine looks for records that match the characters typed. That is to say, it will not read the word rather it will try to match the string of characters together in its listing of indexed terms. To understand this is crucial to understanding the results returned by the engine. A database or search engine doesn’t see either meaning or the ideas represented by the words or even an implied relationship to other thoughts or ideas from your words no more that it could identify sarcasm. Knowing this puts a different spin on keyword doesn’t it.

There are other reasons for my belief that keywords are far more important than either boolean, advanced field commands, or any other tool or strategy. Yet I can’t help but feel that it is the most often overlooked part of our search. Not enough time is spent on understanding how keywords are being process and techniques we can use to drive better results.

Well I’m going back to take a nap.Now that this is out of my head, maybe I can catch some zzzzz’s. Hope you enjoyed by ramblings.

The “AND” Operator with a punch.

There are some things that we use so regularly that we take for granted. That is the case with some of the tools we use for internet research. Have you thought of what the PLUS sign does for instance?
We all have used the “plus” ( + ) sign in our searches right? In many search engines, the plus sign can be used as a substitute to the Boolean operator “AND” that is because just like the “AND” operator it finds pages that contain all search terms, but that is were the similarities end. Here is the first difference; unlike “AND” the “PLUS” sign list pages which have the keyword terms immediately on the right side of this operator only.
The use of the plus sign may produce some other unexpected effects. Using the plus (+) sign directs the search engines to sidestep some of the programming boundaries. For instance it causes characters or “stop words” or “noise words” that normally would be excluded from a search to be forced in as part of the searchable keywords.
I can hear you now!! WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? It means that keywords like a, an, and, are, at, be etc.. can be included as part of your search.
Try running this query in yahoo (or whatever search engine you prefer):

Microsoft bites the apple

Now compare it to:
Microsoft bites +the apple

Isn’t it amazing. The plus sign is not the same as the “AND” operator after all is it?
Another interesting difference between “AND” + is that it produces yet another variation in the algorithms.
Try this simple query in Google:
resume develop vb

Now compare it to:
resume +develop vb

Did you notice the difference? What happened was that Google (as well as most other search engines nowadays) has an automatic stemming algorithm in place that allows for variations of keywords. In the case of the keyword develop it searched for develop, developer and development. Whenever you use the plus sign on a keyword it turns off the automatic stemming feature of the search engine.
Next time you use the “Plus” (+) sign in your queries notice the differences. There are times when may need the stemming features but isn’t it nice to be able to determine when it should be used?

Internet Search Fundamentals

The last entry was a side track. I was side tracked by Shally’s comment. What I had on my mind to say was related to internet search fundamentals. I spend a lot of time training and developing training materials on sourcing. It is my belief that keyword development is the area that most sourcers/recruiters have the hardest time with, even though they may not realize. What I mean is that we just start keying in the keywords that are in the job description without understanding how the search engine syntax is going to interpret it.

The idea is “we just put keywords in an out comes the perfect candidate” but it is not that easy. The key to effective queries is understanding how a search engine treats your search terms. This basic knowledge will help you devise more robust queries and revise ineffective ones.

Try running this simple query in google: resume java beans (by the way this is a quick search string for finding Java Developers/designers.

Notice that it produced 938,000 results, before you try the next simple search scan thru the result summaries.

Next try running this query: beans java resume
(notice that the only thing that has changed is the order of the keywords, otherwise we are using the same keywords.)

I ran the both of them a few minutes ago and this second search string brought 859,000 results. Not only was the number of results significantly different but the order totally changed too.

Keyword location is important, order key terms with main subject first, search engines tend to rank documents that match first terms or phrases higher. Remember, the order in which you enter you terms affect both the order and pages that appear in your search results.

Before I log off, I want to briefly point out some keyword strategies. Formulate the scope of the keyword terms within the job description, identify the important concepts, identify search terms to describe those concepts (don’t rely on the keywords given), consider synonyms and variations of those terms, prepare your search logic. I’ll expand on some of these concepts later but if you stick to this you should be well on your way to writing robust effective queries.