Stop Using Boolean OR on Google

booleanstrings Boolean

OR

Here is the description of the Boolean operator OR from the Google’s help:

OR: If you want to search for pages that may have just one of several words, include OR (capitalized) between the words. Without the OR, your results would typically show only pages that match both terms.
Example: world cup location 2014 OR 2018

Many researchers routinely use the operator OR trying to control the search outcome by covering “every possibility” (whatever it means in every specific case).  There are certainly good reasons to use the operator OR  – say, when you expect few or no results for a given search, for each word for a list. Arranging these words in an OR statement and running one search instead of multiple (one search for each word) would speed up finding those pages.

Here is an example; each of the Midwestern States is spelled out:

chapter Healthcare Financial Management Association Illinois OR Indiana OR Iowa OR Kansas OR Michigan OR Minnesota OR Missouri OR Nebraska OR “North Dakota” OR Ohio OR “South Dakota” OR Wisconsin

That works fine. However, there days there are fewer cases where OR makes searching  productive, than there used to be. Automatic inclusion of synonyms and the ever-growing number of pages on the Internet are two considerations that may affect the usefulness of OR (I’ll say more on those in another post.)

In this post I would like to describe a specific case, where you are interested in finding several words from a list on the results pages. For example, you have a list of target companies and are looking for lists of professionals from some of these companies, or are looking for profiles of people who have worked at two or more of the companies. Putting those company names in a long Boolean OR statement on Google will often not be the best way to search in this case.

Try this search, for example, and look at the results:

Bain OR McKinsey OR BCG OR PwC OR Deloitte OR “Oliver Wyman” OR “Cambridge Group” OR Parthenon OR “L.E.K. Consulting” OR “Cornerstone Research” OR “Insight Sourcing Group” OR “Chartis Group” OR “Point B” OR “A.T. Kearney” OR KPMG OR “ClearView Healthcare”

You might hope that the pages with several of these words would rank higher (and this may be the approach for systems, other than Google, that search specifically for profiles). However, Google shows a list of the most important, relevant pages with just one of the words on each page:

list-OR

Here’s my search advice: To find pages where several words from a list are present, it’s better to stop using the Boolean OR and search for some of the words together.

Let me provide an example to illustrate.

Compare this search (that doesn’t seem to bring up any contact lists high in the search results):

“raytheon.com” OR “lmco.com” OR “ngc.com” name email

email-OR

– with the search, where the same email domains are AND‘ed instead of OR‘ed, i.e. are all included:

“raytheon.com” “lmco.com” “ngc.com” intrusion detection

While I have dropped the words email and name from the first search and didn’t even look for anything pointing to lists (and didn’t specify the file types), this search gets very promising results, many of which are lists of professionals with the contact info:

email-AND

Sure enough, if there was a long list of target companies to try and include, some results will be missing here. But it would be way more productive to search for shorter lists (3 or 4 items, perhaps) out of the long target list together, without the OR. You would want to do this several times, to vary the shorter lists. The results that come up every time are amazing. Additionally, we notice the sites in the search results, that we may want to X-Ray to find more lists.

In conclusion: don’t take me wrong, OR is still useful in many cases. I hope though that you will review the above examples and will search more productively in the cases, such as those described in the post, by dropping the habit of including long OR statements.

If you are interested in reviewing advanced Google searching in application to Sourcing and Research, and get full coverage of the most useful search syntax and the ways it works today, check out the recent webinar “Google-Based Sourcing”.