Become a Google Search Expert With These Tricks

by Chris Hoffman

Google offers a lot of search power, but you’re not accessing all of it if you just type words and phrases into the search box. Google includes many tricks — technically known as “search operators” — you can use. Many of these will even work on other search engines, like Yahoo! and Big. Check out this list — I bet you had no idea you could do some of these things in Google so easily:

Search For An Exact Phrase. Just enclose the phrase you’re looking for in quotes. For example, searching for “enclosed in quotes” would search for all web pages with those three words in that exact order. If you omit the quotes, Google will look for web pages that contain the words “enclosed,” “in,” and “quotes” in any order. Google is often smart enough to realize what you’re searching for even when you don’t use quotes — but quotes are a fast way to find an exact match.

Omit Pages With a Word. Begin the word with a minus sign. This is often useful to help Google understand what you’re not looking for when a word or phrase has multiple interpretations. For example, if you type in how fast is a jaguar, you’ll see results talking about both the animal and the sports car. If you type how fast is a jaguar -car, Google will omit web pages that contain the word “car,” so all the results should be about the speed of large cats.

Search a Specific Website. Use site: operator. For example, let’s say you wanted to find information about a topic on Wikipedia. You could enter the search site:wikipedia.org jaguars and Google would return results about jaguars only from Wikipedia. Use this trick to search a specific website for the information you want.

This trick also allows you to search a specific domain. For example, you could use the search site:.gov taxes to find pages about taxes only on US government sites ending with .gov.

Match Any Word. An asterisk (*) matches any word. You could use it along with the exact phrase search. For example, searching the best * player in the world will deliver results about sports players who are regarded as the best players in various different sports. This is why * is often called a “wildcard” operator — it can match anything.

Match Either Phrase. Normally, when you search for something, Google will look for websites that contain every word in your search. You can choose to search for several different phrases and allow Google to return pages that match either results by placing the word OR — it must be capitalized — between the two words. For example, the search raven OR crow will bring up pages relevant to the search “raven” and pages relevant to the search “crow.”

You could also place the word OR in between two phrases enclosed in quotes to look for a page containing one of two phrases. Or you could place it between a single word and a phrase enclosed in quotes.

Combine These Tricks. Importantly, you can combine these tricks and include any number of them in a single search. For example, the search site:wikipedia.org jaguar OR “panthera onca” -car would search Wikipedia for pages containing either the word “jaguar” or its scientific name, “panthera onca.” It will also omit pages containing the word “car,” so you won’t see any pages about the sports car — but you will see pages about all sorts of other things with the name “jaguar.”

The order of the words, phrases, and search operators in the search isn’t important.

There are many more search operators you can learn, but these are some of the most useful. Google also contains many other tricks that aren’t technically search operators — you can plug a calculation like 1+1 into the search box to use it as a calculator, enter a search like define:word to get the dictionary definition for a word, or plug in a search like “weather Vancouver” to get the weather for a city you specify.

Image Credit: Google

About the Author

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around tech geek who writes for PC World, MakeUseOf, and How-To Geek. He's been using Windows since Windows 3.1 was released in 1992.