Advanced Twitter Search: 7 Ways To Improve Twitter Search
Advanced Twitter Search

Twitter is a fantastic tool for many reasons: networking, selling, identifying opportunities and making connections. There are so many different ways to use it to a business’ advantage, yet so many pass it off as a waste of precious resources. Well, advanced Twitter search takes Twitter to a whole different level where you can drill down to find exactly what you want without all the fluff. That’s what I’m going to discuss here.

Thinking about your Twitter strategy is an important part of being active on social media, and part of that strategy should be advanced Twitter searches. Advanced search opens the whole of Twitter up to you which is why it’s so brilliant. With around 6,000 tweets tweeted every second, it’s impossible to keep up. Finding exactly what you want is like trying to finding a needle in a haystack – it’s no wonder that Twitter gets dismissed easily.



The basics of Twitter advanced search

Like all things, it’s possible to be smart about Twitter and use it to your advantage. One of the most useful tools is the advanced Twitter search.

On a basic level, you can search for subject areas, topics or Twitter hashtags. I think we all know that, but advanced searches give you so much more.

One thing to note is that you can only save up to 25 searches against a given account. And when you search in Twitter, the search results show ‘who to follow’ and promoted tweets, so you’ll have to scroll down and sift through all the promotions. What’s more, you can’t edit a search, which means you have to start from scratch every time.

To get around these hindrances, we use Hootsuite where we can play with complex searches until they’re just right, and then we can even filter by keyword or Klout score, just as a bonus. We’re also not limited to how many searches we can do and we can assign tweets to members of the team, or email them to the client.


Which advanced search criteria works?

When you start to look into advanced Twitter search, Twitter support tells you everything you need to know. On their support pages are a list of all the advanced search strings you could ever need (well, almost). And here they are:

Whilst that’s all well and good, it doesn’t help in formulating search strings that work for exactly what you need. So here are the ways we use those advanced search operators to identify opportunities for our clients.

1. To discover content themes

By using keywords or hashtags it’s possible to uncover what the Twittersphere is saying about a given topic. We combine multiple variations of keywords to bring similar subjects or synonyms together in the same set of results. We do this using the OR or AND operators with keywords. To keep the results in English, we also add lang:en

For example:
lang:en AND #bigdata OR “data analytics” OR “unstructured data”

Note: use quote marks to search for the specific phrase.

The results show all tweets about the selected subjects. This can also help identify what competitors are doing and who the influencers are in your chosen area. We also use this type of search for general monitoring of topics.

This result will bring back lots of tweets that use the intended keywords as well as users with the keyword or hashtag in their profile.

This is what the search results look like in Hootsuite:


2. To identify potential leads

Often people ask questions when they’re looking for something, or need to know something. Therefore adding a question mark to your advanced search identifies people who potentially have a need. This gives you the opportunity to answer their question and start a dialogue. This is great for lead generation.

Taking the search above and simply adding a question filters the results giving only questions related to the topic.

lang:en ? AND #bigdata OR “data analytics” OR “unstructured data”

The following shows how this filters the results to questions only:


3. Monitor sentiment

Using emoticons 🙁 or 🙂 regarding a particular topic, keyword, competitor or your own brand will give you back results based on sentiment. Emoticons tend to give a limited result, so add adjectives that describe feelings or emotions. We have a very long list which we can’t share here as it includes quite a few obscenities!

This is great for identifying customers that aren’t happy with a brand. When your search terms are around a topic area, you’ll return sentiment on how people feel about other brands – your competitors or general topic areas.

4. Competitor analysis

Sometimes it’s useful to know what competitors are saying in the Twittersphere. This is useful in two ways. You can see what they’re saying easily, but you can also see the conversations they’re having – and it’s all in one place.

This is great for products and for brands. Simply search using the brand terms or product names. You’ll get results that show what customers are thinking so you can dive in if they’re having an issue.


5. Geography

Setting the area where you want to search is very useful to limit results and make them more relevant. If you’re selling in the UK only, then it only makes sense to search in the UK. Likewise if you cover multiple geographies then you may want to set up different search strings for different locations. The main reason behind this is so that you can push interesting tweets or opportunities to the correct sales team.

There are several ways to restrict results to locations and they all work well. Using near: with the zipcode or city is useful, but my favourite is a geocode (Google Maps will give you the geocode).


Using a geocode ensures that there’s no confusion over where you mean. For example, there’s a London in Canada, Ohio and of course, in the UK. Here’s examples of searches using the search operator near and a geocode:

Near:London within:100km

Near:90210 within:5km

Geocode: 51.5047650;-2.4841220,500km

The inclusion of within: filters the results down to a given radius. With a geocode, you simply need to add a comma and the radius.

6. Responses to usernames

You can piggyback off other’s successes by searching for all replies to a particular individual or brand. For example to:Microsoft you’ll see all the tweets sent to Microsoft. This is particularly useful if a competitor has just launched a product and there are issues with it. You can respond proactively to the feedback and solve their pain with your solutions.

You can also keep track of their level of engagement and the kinds of conversations they’re specifically having. Using the following search operators will give you this:

from:autodesk to:autodesk

And this is what the results look like:


7. Refining searches for more accurate results

The results given back usually need additional filtering to make them even more relevant and targeted. Our favourite has to be the minus symbol (-), which can be used at the beginning of a word. This is particularly useful to remove competitors, users or words that are pulling in inappropriate results. I also use this to remove jobs, job, career, careers, recruitment, etc filtering the results so that they’re more relevant.

With one of our clients, we use the hashtag #BI for ‘business intelligence’. Any worldly individual I’m sure knows the kind of results we get with that search. We therefore filter out any terms and hashtags relating to bisexual and gay conversations, cleaning up the results so it’s exactly what we want without the porn – I think you get the picture.

A few other good filters:

For some searches we remove links by adding the following to the search string -com -tmblr -net -html. This removes all tweets with links leaving those commenting, responding or stating an issue, thought or problem.

Setting language to the given geography you’re targeting is also useful. Some hashtags mean different things in other languages so hashtags or abbreviations tend to deliver a lot of foreign language tweets. It’s therefore possible to only show results in English using the filter: lang:EN.

Another favourite is the –RT, which removes all retweets, preventing duplication and keeping only the original person who tweeted the tweet in the stream. Likewise –via removes those giving recognition to those they are retweeting.

Final thoughts

When we do advanced Twitter searches, we typically combine certain advanced searches for more accurate results, usually by adding filters. It takes a little trial and error to get the results right and filter out the nonsense, but when you do, the value that you can glean is fantastic. It makes Twitter a highly strategic tool in your armoury and is the perfect way to start a programme that delivers ROI from your social media activity.

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  1. The -filter:links isn’t working for me. I get an error. Would love to figure out how to filter links out of my Tmeline, especially in Hootsuite!

    1. Hi Heather
      It seems you are right and that filter doesn’t work – sorry about that. I’ll update the post. Instead, you can add the following: -com -tmblr -net -html

      This will filter out any links that contain these elements and in the tests that I did, it worked well. A few other link shortening tools crept through, but on the whole, the stream in Hootsuite was link free. When you do get a link that creeps in, just add it to the search filter. You can do this by clicking on the download arrow at the top of the stream, selecting Preferences and then adding in the additional filter.

      1. Hi Nicola! Thanks for this. It still isn’t working for me with Hootsuite. It might become I’m trying to filter my own Home Feed or List. When I choose Filter by… I can choose Keyword or Klout Score. If I choose Keyword, it doesn’t seem to allow a minus sign. It lets me filter for “rain” but not “” etc. I can do it with Tweetdeck but then I can’t see my filtered Lists on my iPhone or iPad. 🙁

        Any ideas? Basically, am trying to see what my followers (whom I happen to also follow, in general) are talking about in a conversational way.

        1. Heather, I’ve been on holiday and so pretty out of it re: social and blog comments. #FAIL! I’ve been thinking about this, and the ‘filter’ function within Hootsuite is a little limiting. I was trying to do something similar but didn’t manage it. I’ve not come across any free tools that can analyse conversations of your feed, although, Twitonomy does have some good functionality about what your ‘sphere’ is saying. Mainly to do with hashtags and topics though.

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