Google. It’s a mega technology company with thousands of employees and tons of services that power large swaths of the web from YouTube to Gmail. For many people, the iconic blank search screen is their homepage. It’s the gateway to the internet with a 67% market share in the search engine space and it’s not slowing down anytime soon.
Chances are, unless you are holding onto Yahoo, steadfastly working towards earned rewards with Bing or protecting your privacy with Duck Duck Go, you use Google every time you search — maybe even hundreds of times per day. If you’re curious about the quantity or frequency of your searches, or you’re just really into self-quantification, you can check out your Google Search History to learn about your personal trends. For example, here are mine:
But do you use Google as productively as you possibly could? Or does it take three or four searches to get specific enough to return the kind of results you are looking for?
There are some great efficiency tricks for fine-tuning your results that you may have never heard of. These tricks are not magic — they’re called “search query operators,” and they work by giving Google a better sense of what you are looking for. Here are some of the most useful search query operators, starting with a few you have probably used before (maybe without even realizing it) and continuing to a few that could supercharge the way you search. Prepare to Google like you’ve never Googled before.
Quotation marks happen to be the query operator you are most likely to have already used — perhaps without even really thinking about it. They return results that only contain that exact phrase, reproduced in the exact word order you provide instead of just results that contain all of the words you enter, in any old order. Use them to find old sayings, identify songs by their lyrics or finally figure out who uttered that quote you love.
Pro Tip: Wondering if a piece of writing is plagiarized? Services like Copyscape will check for you for a fee, but you can check for blatant plagiarism by simply dropping a few random sentences into Google using quotation marks. Only search a sentence at a time. However, Google’s word limit for queries is 32.
The minus sign is another self-explanatory query operator. It removes a given word from the results, thereby making websites lacking that word rise to the surface.
Pro Tip: Use the minus operator to specify which meaning you want Google to take from a word with more than one definition or context. For example, if you wanted to look up information about jaguars, you can try to remove irrelevant results with the search query -car.
The use of the plus sign query operator isn’t quite as immediately obvious. After all, if you’re including the word in the search, you can assume that word is on the results pages that are coming up, right? Well, not always.
Sometimes, in an effort to bring up more results on a query that returns few sites, Google will serve up some results that do not contain every word of the search. They are indicated by a crossed out word in your search query. The plus sign forces that word so that Google doesn’t return any results without it.
Pro Tip: In addition to forcing that term, using the plus sign will eliminate synonyms. When you search for supplements, Google will also return results for supplement, supplementing, and other variations. A search for +supplements only returns pages with the word “supplements.”
Looking for a page on a specific website? Narrow the search results to only those on that domain using the site: operator. This operator works for subdomains and subdirectories, too, if you want to get more specific.
Pro Tip: Hate the internal search built into your favorite blog? Use this query operator instead.
Keyword AROUND(n) Keyword
The little-known AROUND(n) query operator will return results containing both your keywords but only pages where those keywords appear within n words of each other. Replace n with a number of your choice. For example, a search for pesto AROUND(2) basil returns only results where the word basil appears within two words of the word pesto. The recipes that come up include “basil pecan pesto,” “basil-walnut pesto,” “basil-lemon pesto” and others.
Pro Tip: This operator is especially useful when you’re trying to get results based around a phrase, say “peanut butter and jelly,” but there might be variations within the phrase itself.
The great thing about search query operators is that you don’t have to use them all at once. Combine them if needed to create detailed but highly useful search strings that find exactly what you are looking for.
These query operators barely scratch the surface of what Google can do to narrow down your search results – see this page and this post for more ideas. What are your favorite search query operators, or the ones you just can’t live without? Share them in the comments below.
Image by DeathToTheStockPhoto
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