We’ve all done it. I’ll be the first to admit it.
It is SO easy to run straight down a rabbit hole to nowhere. Sometimes, I’ve even gained so much momentum that I continue down a cold trail long after the warning signs have passed. If I could just visit one more website that might, perhaps maybe offer a golden nugget of information to my investigation.
For me, I think it started during my high school days when the ever elusive internet really started making an entrance into my existence. I could easily spend hours searching and searching and searching for just the right information for my report.
Then in college, the sorry trend continued. I wasted so much time on the internet, turning circles with no real system in place to keep track of what websites I had visited and what information I had found where.
This drove my highly organized self into a frenzy. I had to bring order to the chaos. So finally as an adult, I started developing a method to the madness.
As the internet grew larger, so did my knowledge on how to best wrangle it to suit my needs.
When I was hired onto a police department’s staff as their only crime analyst, I really had the chance to hone my research-gathering skills. I was left completely to my own devices to prove myself as the department’s first analyst. So I worked really hard at it.
Now, as a private investigator, I have even further developed my investigative skills and have created a system that is thorough, efficient, methodical, and diligent.
Since it’s not just private investigators who investigate and research, I thought it prudent to share the lessons I’ve learned with all of you.
So if you find yourself running in circles while using the internet, read on for some helpful tips from a reformed offender.
FAMILIARIZE YOURSELF WITH GOOGLE SEARCH HACKS
Did you know you can use quotes to tell Google to search for a whole phrase? If you’re searching for information on Amelia Earhart, try “amelia earhart” and your results will automatically wipe out those annoying results for the thousands of Amelia’s out there and the thousands of Earharts. It’s a total waste of time to sift through results that have nothing to do with Amelia Earhart.
How about using a hyphen to exclude words? In 2011, my hometown had an EF-5 tornado rip through town, destroying about 1/3 of it and killing 160 people. When you conduct a Google search for “joplin missouri”, six of the first 20 results have something to do with the tornado. If I am researching Joplin but I don’t want to see any results about the tornado, I can use a hyphen to automatically exclude them: “joplin missouri” -tornado. It’s as simple as that.
If you’re trying to find a Facebook profile for a person, you can always navigate directly to Facebook and conduct your search there. In fact, I’ve already written a former blog post on this very topic that you can read here. But you can also use a simple Google search like this one: “new hope investigations” site:facebook.com. This search hack works for any search in which you want to confine it to a specific site only.
The asterisk wildcard is a favorite of many. When you only have partial information on a person or topic, you can use an asterisk in place of the missing words. For example, let’s say you have a client who is searching for a birth parent. The only information the client has is that he was found wrapped in a blanket on a bridge called Shiloh. A Google search for: shiloh bridge is in *, returns results that indicate Shiloh Bridge is in Lincoln County, Tennessee. So you could start searching in Lincoln County for further clues.
There are so many other search hacks that cut down on time spent aimlessly wandering around the portals of Google. If you want to learn more, just navigate to Google and enter “google search hacks” into the search box.
RESEARCH THE ONLINE RESOURCES OTHERS IN YOUR INDUSTRY ARE USING
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of digging into the common resources others in your industry are using. Ask colleagues. Post questions in forums, online groups, and discussion boards. Follow industry leaders on social media and read what they are talking about. Look into trade magazines, journals, books, and other published materials about your industry and written by leaders in your industry.
If everyone in your industry is using a particular resource, you better jump on that train too.
Also, be aware that online resources are a revolving door, so out with the old and in with the new! What used to be a top resource for you might disappear overnight, but don’t fret. New resources are being added just as quickly.
BOOKMARK YOUR FAVORITE SITES
Once you start gathering resources, bookmark them, for goodness sake.
I have hundreds and hundreds of resources I’ve bookmarked and organized into categories for faster retrieval. Of course, some of those resources can drop off the grid and become obsolete rather quickly, so this is a dynamic process. Delete those that are no longer working and regularly add new ones.
I should note here that just because you have hundreds or thousands of online resources at your disposal, you shouldn’t feel the need to use every single one of them every time you hop onto the internet.
As a private investigator, I have to weigh my online research with the needs of my client such as time allotment and their budget, as well as my own considerations in regards to my other cases. There is too much available on the internet. Too much information to realistically sift through. It’s an impossible task.
Don’t try to undertake the impossible. You will lose for yourself and for your client.
MAKE A PLAN
Before I conduct any online research, I always start with a plan.
I probe my client into verbalizing exactly what information they are seeking from me. We determine a budget and a timeline. I then choose from the various checklists I have created and devise a personalized plan for their specific case.
I don’t start anything until my plan is created and in place.
This step alone eradicates the tendency to investigate in circles online. With a plan, you won’t question whether you’ve already visited a site. You won’t waste precious hours on fruitless searches. You won’t get sucked into the internet’s alluring offerings of more, more, more.
FOLLOW YOUR PLAN
The next tip is to follow your plan. Do not deviate from your plan unless you uncover information that absolutely requires it.
Don’t allow yourself to be sucked down the rabbit holes when you know they lead to nowhere. Don’t give into distraction. Don’t “accidentally” find yourself on the 17th page of your Google search results. Just don’t do it. Stick to the plan.
RECORD YOUR INTERNET ACTIVITY
I absolutely cannot speak of recording your internet activity without recommending the most wonderful resource to you - Hunchly. I’ve written about Hunchly several times before, so if you want to learn even more about it’s capabilities, uses, pricing, etc., here you go.
If you can’t or don’t want to spend the money to purchase Hunchly or some other similar program, you can always go the free route with screen shots and other self-created methods for recording your research efforts.
But whatever you do, do something.
All of these helpful tips I’ve included for you to follow take time. I know it seems rather backwards to offer up time-sucking solutions to your time-sucking problems.
But all is not lost.
I promise that if you take these steps in the beginning, they will pay off in the end. You will reap the benefits and will reap them quickly. I save time every day because I follow my own advice here. And because I save time, I save money. For myself and for my clients.