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How to Set Up a Search Feed

A search feed is an RSS feed (not an e-mail alert) that delivers to you a steady stream of fresh results to a search query that you specify. This is especially useful for following ongoing or emerging topics of interest – anything from carbon tax initiatives, to your local school district, to what people are saying about you online.

To use search feeds, you’ll need a feed reader. Google Reader is a free, flexible, and easy one to start with. If you’re an education reporter in Boulder, Colorado. One topic you’d want to follow regularly is the Boulder Valley School District. Sure, you can keep up with coverage in the local mainstream media easily enough – but what about what people are saying on blogs and other kinds of online venues? Surprisingly often, good leads and under-the-radar issues crop up there.

To keep on top of that content, you can go to popular feed aggregators (think of them as blog collectors) like Google Blog Search, Technorati, and Icerocket. Enter into them the search query “boulder valley school district” – in quotes.

The picture above shows part of this results page from doing that search on Google Blog Search. Note the “Subscribe” options in the bottom left-hand column: You can get e-mail alerts, or a feed (RSS or Atom format — I recommend RSS).

When you click that RSS button, you’ll be prompted to add the feed from that search results page to your feed reader. Once you do that, your feed reader will automatically be updated with easy-to-scan notifications of fresh content online — and in some cases (with full-text feeds) the complete content will download to your feed reader. Here’s what that looks like in Google Reader:

The main advantages of search feeds are:

Efficiency and continuity: Fresh, relevant content comes to you — you don’t have to keep searching for it.

Serendipity, diverse perspectives, fresh angles: You’ll relevant content from sources you’ve never heard of or never would have thought to search for.

Organization: Yeah, you could do this with e-mail alerts, but that’s a mess to organize and process. Good feed readers will allow you to flag posts, group feeds into folders, and otherwise handle this information effectively.

Search feeds can be used for any search services that allows you to generate feeds from search results — not just blog aggregators, but also resources such as Yahoo News or Blinkx (a popular audio/video search engine). They also can be useful with general search engines such as Google, although perhaps less newsy and more background in that case.

Also, if you configure your site search engine to support custom search feeds, you’ll get important insight into not just what your community wants to know now, but what they want to keep hearing about — which could help you hone your content strategy.

Article courtesy of Amy Gahran



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