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How to choose the right media monitoring keywords for best results

When evaluating a media monitoring service, there are many factors to consider: your scope of coverage, which provider to choose and the service tier that best fits your budget. However, while it may not seem to be a difficult choice, one of the most important decisions you will make is selecting the best keywords for your new monitoring account – keywords that will deliver the most relevant and targeted clips.

Choosing the right keywords and phrases is essentially a balancing act. If you pick terms that are too broad, they will return hundreds (or thousands) of clips per day, leaving you with a virtual stack too large to read through. However, if you pick terms that are too narrow (for example, just your company name or your name) – and you are not in the news at the moment – you may find you get very few or no daily results. In both of these cases, having too many clips can be as dangerous as having too few – both will leave you disappointed with your monitoring provider and its system capabilities.

So, for starters, what are some good keywords and terms to consider for your new monitoring account? In addition to the obvious (i.e., company name), be sure to think about your product names, trademarks, servicemarks and executive names. Then, moving to a broader level, you may want to consider your competitors and other industry peers or partners. Finally, on the broadest level, you should consider industry terms and keywords, geographic terms of interest and even subject-specific terms like disaster-preparedness news relative to your business. Ideally, most of your keywords should come from the first two of these tiers in order to return the most relevant results – and keep your daily clip-file to a manageable size.

Once you have some keywords in mind, think of ways to further refine them before adding them to your monitoring account. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Avoid acronyms as keywords. Above all else, beware the use of acronyms as a monitoring search-term. What might seem incredibly obvious to you (as the meaning behind the acronym) could be cryptic to your monitoring provider, leaving them to guess at the meaning behind the acronym. Also, acronyms increase the chances of returning false-positive clips many times over.
  2. Use “wildcards” wherever possible. Many monitoring systems allow you to leave an ending series of letters off of your search term and/or to use a wildcard character (*) to generate broader results. For example “technolog*” would generate results for “technology,” “technologies” and “technologist.”
  3. Think like a search engine. While it may sound obvious, think about your search term as if it were being typed into the query box on the front page of a major search-engine, like Google. When you enter a broad keyword, like “environment,” the search engine has no way to know if you’re referring to environment – in a climate or conservation sense – or of the economic, financial or hostile sort.
  4. Add clarifying words. If there is a term that conveys the sense of your keyword, or makes a broad term more specific, include it as part of the search term. For example, if you are considering a word like “telecommunications” (very broad) as a monitoring keyword, be sure to supplement it with other terms like “public policy” or “lobbying” to get results closer to your intended topic.
  5. Consider exact phrases for precise results. Many – if not all – monitoring providers offer support for exact phrases as part of keyword selection. Wherever possible, be sure to take advantage of this for more precise results, such as “travel to Mexico” or “Acme CEO John Smith.” However, be advised that monitoring systems have no tolerance for variations on an exact phrase, so it’s best to use these precise phrases sparingly.
  6. Utilize case-sensitive searches wherever possible. If you have a search term, such as a proper name, that could be confused for a generic one (such as “White House” versus “white house”), you will likely want to use a case-sensitive search. This will instruct the system to identify a story as a clip only if a case-sensitive match is found, giving you a much higher rate of success when looking for names or phrases that could be easily confused with generic terms often found in unrelated articles.
  7. Stay “near” and dear. One of the best ways to make a keyword more specific, aside from adding clarifying terms (in No. 4 above), is to look for other words to appear near your term. To achieve this, many providers offer a “near” function, allowing you to find clips where a second keyword appears within X words (five to 20 words, usually) of the first term. For a story on the “economic” environment, using a “near” search could help identify clips, while still giving you flexibility for those words to appear without being as specific as an exact phrase.
  8. Learn to speak Boolean. Many search engines and database systems have taught us the Boolean language – if, or, not, and, etc. — and monitoring systems are no exception. In fact, many monitoring systems allow you to submit your search strings in Boolean format so they can be loaded directly into the system – allowing faster setup times and more precise control over the keywords going into a monitoring system. Here is a link to a primer on Boolean search, and a list of commands.

With these tips in mind, and some careful consideration of your search terms beforehand, you’re well on your way to selecting the best keywords for your monitoring account. Just remember: It’s rare to get the best results on the first pass, so it may take some tweaking and refining in the first few days in order to achieve the best results. But once your keywords are set up and performing correctly, they will require very little maintenance and will provide you with a stream of highly relevant reading material going forward.


  • Think like a search engine
  • Consider the addition of clarifying terms to reflect sentiment or meaning
  • Consider the use of wildcards to broaden a search term
  • Use exact phrases and case-sensitive searches wherever possible
  • Use search-engine tools (NEAR commands, Boolean terms, etc.) for further tuning


  • Use acronyms as keywords
  • Assume your service provider will understand the meaning behind your keywords at first
  • Expect the best results on day one; monitoring often requires keyword-tuning during initial setup
  • Sign up for a monitoring provider without a hands-on trial to test their service

Keep in mind that many providers offer free trials of their monitoring services to help clients get started. At Marketwire, we allow clients an extensive, no-cost demo of our News Dashboard Monitoring solution. These trials are not just a free benefit, but are also necessary in order to help you get your keywords selected and refined — and to review an initial stream of clips to ensure your keywords are returning the best results.

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