What Candy Crush Taught Me About Writing Search Strings

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Feb 28, 2014

For those who are not into Candy Crush Saga, it’s a cool game. The game consists of colorful and sweet looking candies, that when combined, unleash blasts that knock out rows or columns of other sweets. As you progress through the game, you encounter many obstacles like limited number of moves for a level, ticking bombs, regenerating chocolate squares and more; ooohhh, so much more.

Candy Crush Saga has consumed many of my days and caused more sleepless nights than I’d care to admit. On my return flight from the Atlanta SourceCon conference, the exploding candies had me mesmerized and it dawned on me! There are so many ways in which candy crush is like writing search strings.

Here are the top five critical search string crafting lessons as taught by Candy Crush Saga:

1. Candy patterns!

As you begin playing Candy Crush, the first thing you notice is that the more candies that you combine together, the more powerful effects that you achieve. To take advantage of the power ups, you must keep on eye on the patterns that are arising.

When running search strings in databases, just combining keywords is not enough. It’s important to look for patterns in your search results as well. Just like in candy crush, patterns emerge through the results summaries, that if observant, will lead to explosive results.

The search results can provide you with either keywords to exclude or other keywords or keyword combinations that might produce even better results. These patterns often provide the clues you need to find the right profiles from your database.

2. Save your Power candies for super combos

The game is not just about combining candies to get them off of your board. It’s about making the most explosive combinations for maximum effect. Waiting for more power candies to appear and then swapping power candies with each other will release different kind of effects.

When searching through a database or search engine, it isn’t just about using keywords; it’s about strategically combining them for maximum effect. The “right” combinations of keywords will cause them to release your query’s full potential.

In other words, by adding keywords we can connect meanings to form associations that direct the context, direction, ranking, and relevance of our search. In fact, the associations created by linking keywords are far more important to crafting strong queries and to keyword performance than the meaning of the actual word itself.

You can create powerful combinations through the use of parenthesis and double quotation marks. The better that you get at using these to design strong search statements, the better your search results will be.

3. Know your stripes!

Candy is striped in the same direction as the final candy moved to complete the previous formation. If you move a candy horizontally to combine three candies, it will make a horizontal stripe, which will then explode horizontally as well.

In search, the keyword meaning is directed by the word positioned next to it. You can direct the search string to create a totally different meaning based on the direction you create with your keyword positions.

For example, if you wanted to drive your search for “Java” as a keyword towards the programming language, we would use other technical terms to do so. Combining JAVA as a keyword with XML and JSP would establish the meaning of Java as a programming language.

If we would rather search for information on the Island in Indonesia we might combine keywords like “JAVA”, “population”, “history”, or “demographics”. The combination of these keywords would change the context to define your search intent to the island of Java in Indonesia.

In this same way, each concept associated with a keyword comes from within a framework or context. Databases use that context to derive the meaning of your keywords and to calculate relevance rankings. They use very intricate algorithms to do this but these programs try to unravel the many complexities of words and phrases in our everyday language.

4. Assess your threats!

Assess your threats. Things like bombs and chocolate make the game harder. Chocolate, for instance, blocks your objectives. They usually will cover gel squares or line up in areas that need to be cleared in order to bring ingredients down. The chocolate problem gets worse if you can’t clear it.

In your search strings, the threats to search results aren’t as visible as advancing chocolate but they are just as menacing.

Some of the threats to search results can include bad keyword choices, keyword popularity, keyword prominence, keyword density, etc.…

At the heart of query crafting is the need for finding the causes for search strings that go off course. Unfortunately, determining what is wrong with a search string is not like hooking up your car to a diagnostic machine.

Most of the time when search strings fail it’s due to a combination of problems. This is fundamentally why it is so difficult to identify the causes.

Assessing search string problems begins with simple observation. You need to observe and make the connection between how things work and the patterns that are occurring in your results.

Without understanding what is going on, tweaking a search string is like driving with your eyes closed. Troubleshooting search strings effectively and consistently requires a solid understanding of what happened. Once you know what’s happening, it’s easy to make corrections.

5. Have a plan!

Each time you start a new game level, look at the hardest element on that level and think out how you can defeat it first before you use up lives.

This same concept applies to searching. The key to achieving your expected search results it to give yourself the right tools and resources for the job from the beginning. Meaningful search results require planning and creative search string design.

The common assumption is that searching is about identifying and selecting the right keywords, which comes with a closely related second assumption – keywords are individual words that describe the skills of candidates.

Both assumptions are wrong; the secret to creating super search strings isn’t inspiration or brilliance. It is not in identifying and selecting great keywords either. Selecting keywords is an important part of the process, but it doesn’t come close to being the most important.

Focusing on keywords is kind of like staring at your car dashboard instead of the road and expecting that you will safely arrive at your destination.

Effective searching is about navigating the database elements, not choosing great keywords. In order to do that you need to have a plan.

All of you who have played Candy Crush know all too well how frustrating it can be. These same frustrations are experienced with search strings that produce unwanted and irrelevant results. Approach your search strings like you do candy crush. Know that you can pass that level and achieve the results you need.

The databases have those candidate profiles locked away in the depths of their indexes. They are only available to those that persevere beyond the simple queries. To those that learn to address the real issues and overcome the database elements.

Well, there you have them; my sourcing lessons as taught to me by Candy Crush Saga. As it turns out, the many hours playing the game were strategic investments in my sourcing skills after all!

I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments, and if you’ve come across any other great Candy Crush tips, or tricks, I would love to hear from you as well.

image via wikipedia

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