Google has been a go-to for people to find answers to their questions for over a decade now. “Googling” something has made its way into our vocabulary and people lean on it more and more each day. Google has put so much into their algorithm and user experience that they provide answers on the results page for many queries they deem are questions.
These do a great job, but Google doesn’t have everything figured out yet. This is partly because the amount of content and webpages continue to expand at exponential rates. Sometimes you could use a little help to find exactly what you need.
Luckily there are certain characters you can add to your search query to get to the bottom of your problem quicker. These are called search operators.
There are two main categories of Google search operators:
- Basic search operators – Codes and symbols that modify basic text searches to help you find pages relevant to that query.
- Advanced search operators – Commands that modify basic text searches but require additional parameters to narrow down search results.
As it turns out, search engines actually scan every search query for special commands. And even though the special command can cause annoyance as in the example above, they can also be extremely useful, if you know how to use them. With that in mind, here are some special commands that can really help you find whatever it is you’re looking for.
– (Negative Symbol): adding ‘-‘ before a word in a query will tell a search engine to ignore pages that use that word prominently. This can be especially helpful when you’re trying to find a specific piece of information, but the word that you’re using has multiple meanings.
For example, the phrase ‘steel drum’ can refer either to a Michael Scott’s favorite musical instrument, or to a barrel used to transport liquids. If you were only interested in the instrument, the search term ‘steel drum -barrels’ would give you a results page with industrial sites removed.
~ (Tilde): putting the ‘~’ symbol before a word tells the search engine that you are looking for words _similar_ to the one you entered. So if you were shopping for a used ‘car’, but also might be interested in a ‘pre-owned van’ or a ‘secondhand vehicle’, a good search term to use would be ‘~used ~cars’.
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“” (Quotation Marks): usually, when you enter a phrase with multiple words into a search engine, the algorithm does try its hardest to match up as many words as possible. This works well if you don’t know _exactly_ what you want.
If you searched for ‘funny scene billy madison comedy’, you are probably looking for a general list of funny scenes. On the other hand, if you searched for ‘”I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul”‘, you can be sure to find information about a very specific scene.
Range of Numbers
.. (Two Periods): this operator means ‘between’, and is always used in the context of numbers. It can be a very convenient shorthand if you’re looking up something in a given date or price range. Typing ‘Cars $10,000 .. $30,0000’ into the search bar should return only pages about cars in that price range.
* (Asterisk): in most computer software, the asterisk symbol means is translated as ‘wildcard’. As the name suggests, wildcards are placeholders, which can be replaced by any word or phrase. This can be particularly useful if you’ve forgotten parts of a word or phrase.
If, for some reason, you were trying to find the name of a song that you know began with the word ‘happy’ and ended with the phrase ‘to you’, you might search Google for ‘happy * to you’. And then you would be rewarded with that wonderful Eureka! moment when you remembered that the word that was on the tip of your tongue was ‘birthday’.
Searching “define:” with a colon and your word in question will return the definition of the word you’re looking for. You can also search for synonyms as well using synonym:[keyword] syntax.
These can be used in conjunction with keywords to include or exclude different results. For example, fish OR chips will return results for either term.
Why would you want to exclude words or pages?
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Depending on how broad your search is, Google will find sites that may be relevant or irrelevant to your intent. Excluding words from an otherwise broad search phrase can dramatically improve the quality of the results.
Specific Site Search
If you searched for: foxes site:nationalgeographic.com Using the word “site” followed by a colon will search for foxes but only on the specific website you want to search on.
The site operator is considered an advanced search operator because it modifies searches and requires an additional parameter. In this case, that additional parameter is a domain name.
Built In Searches
There are a lot of different searches that automatically return answers instead of websites to find answers on. These range from weather, conversions, movies, etc. It can really save time and Google is doing this for more and more queries every day.
Google has noticed a huge rise in searches containing “near me”. Because of this, they are showing a lot more automatic results for many things if you just type in hospital or restaurant. Focusing more on intent they can use machine learning to show the most relevant results to a user.
Keywords: Be Specific
There are other way’s to make your searches even better. Just like “near me” is now a recognized way of searching in Google you can manipulate the keywords used to get narrow your searches even further and get the information you need faster.
Instead of: Toyota Car Try: Used 2010 Toyota Corolla
Specifying used or new, the specific year and model help Google narrow down options and save you the time it takes to sift through results you don’t need.
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Instead of: Whole Grain Food Recipes Try: Recipes Using Whole Grains
While Google will do its best to translate your spelling attempts, try to spell your queries correctly. If you’re not sure how to spell a word, do a pre-Google search to clarify the correct spelling.
Instead of: Best Asian Restaurant Try: Best Wicker Park Asian Food
Making use of your city or neighborhood can help Google find better local area results and save you from getting search results nowhere near where you’re searching.
Less is More
Instead of: Mens 11 running shoes Nike Sports Authority Chicago IL Try: Mens 11 Running Shoes
Knowing how many keywords to use is a bit of an art, but the more modifiers you use, the less weight search engines will give to each search term.
Punctuation Not Required
Outside of special operators, special characters are not necessary as Google does not take them into account when finding results. Keep it simple to save time when writing your searches.
So there you have it, 13 ways to improve your searches and get better results. It might take some time to integrate these into your daily searches, but a little at a time and you’ll pass Search Engine Searches 101 with flying colors.