Master online searches with advanced Google search operators
Want some tips to improve your online search? Over the months I’ve compiled the following list of expert advice on how to master the major search engines. I’ve used Google below but you can try these on Yahoo, Bing, DuckDuckGo or your favorite search engine.
So let’s get nerdy! Here are 12 tips to enhance your online searches. Bet you didn’t know a few of these tricks!
1To narrow your search to find an exact match, enter an exact phrase and use double quotemarks. Example:
2Unlike other search engines, Google doesn’t recognize a wildcard (*) at the end of a word to look for variations — example, teen* to find teen, teens, teenage, teenager, teenagers — because Google already provides these kinds of variations in all its results.
However, Google does something cooler. Enter * in the middle of or at the end of a phrase and it will provide multiple variations:
3To limit your search to a specific site, enter the site query followed immediately by a colon. Often you’ll want to leave out the www. I use this one every day. Example:
- (No space between the colon and the website address.) This limits your search to only to this one website.
I find LinkedIn’s internal search engine to be next to useless. But you can use Google to ferret out useful information from that or other niche talent sites. Say that you’re searching for experts in a subject, maybe in a specific location. Use the site operator:
Related (or ~)
4To find sites similar to or related to a niche site, use the related search operator. Example:
And here’s a variation on related: the tilde (~). Results are hit or miss with this, so experiment a bit. I like it for brainstorming, for link prospecting and more. To look for opportunities for a guest post in the health sector, try this:
Specific top-level domain
5To limit your search to a particular kind of site — say, only .edu sites or .org or .gov sites — use the site syntax, which tells Google to search only for content on those top-level educational, nonprofit or government domains (don’t enter the period):
Top-level domains also include nations. To search for mentions of Avril Lavigne only in Canada:
Exclude term (NOT)
6To exclude a particular term from your search results, put a minus sign just before words you don’t want. For example, I like to exclude Tom Cruise from my cruise searches by doing this: -“Tom Cruise”.
You can exclude not just search terms but also websites from your results. For example, to remove all amazon.com results from a search, do the following:
Add words to your search (+)
7To further refine your search results, use the plus sign operator before quotes as in
+”john wayne” +”western movies”. That really narrows it down and cuts out the irrelevant results. Examples:
8To cut down on results and search only on the page title, use the intitle query. (Another option is inurl.) You can enter a couple of relevant words. Example:
One good use case is when you’re looking for local sponsors for an event or cause. Example:
Specific file type
9To limit your search to a specific file type use filetype to limit searches to .pdf, .doc, .ppt, .xls files. For example, here’s how to look for mentions of the phrase “lawrence lessig” in PowerPoint slides:
Or search for an employee handbook for inspiration:
Or search on business plans for inspiration:
Or combine search parameters — file type plus top-level domain plus page title:
- california filetype:xls site:gov intitle:state to get spreadsheets from .gov sites that contain the word California and have the word “state” in the title.
intext: Find a specific author, search on blogs, etc.
10I know this is getting dense with all the different search operators to choose from. Here’s another: intext. There are lots of ways to use it.
To find content by a specific author writing about a specific subject, you could search like this to return articles and podcasts about Silicon Valley by Kara Swisher:
To return content in a variety of websites’ blog sections (see the site:*.com/blog parameter below) written by Neil Patel about content marketing, do this:
inanchor: Get specific results within a broad topic
11This one may seem complex, but give it a shot. You can zero in on relevant search results limited to Web pages in which a specific term appears within the anchor text of the pages. Anchor text (aka links) can be useful if you’re searching for anything from a product to an academic citation.
To search for the best lawn mowers, instead of generation info about lawn mowers, do this:
And to search for infographics about SEO, try this:
12To find out who’s linking to your website or blog, use Google’s link query to see the top-ranked inbound links (and be nice to them!). Examples:
Bonus 1: Other cool search tricks
Use Google advanced search to narrow results by language, region, last update or for some of the parameters listed above.
More niche search operators you can try
- Books: books:”A Game of Thrones”
- Define: define:oxymoron for a definition of obscure words
- Movies: movies:Body Heat for information about a specific movie
- Movies near you: Movie:[your zip code] to see what movies are playing locally
- Calculations: Just type 2,485,333 times 3,178 (or whatever calculation you need)
- Time zones: Just type what time is it in Hanoi?
Bonus 2: Hunt down plagiarized content
Want to find out if your content is original or if someone is plagiarizing you? Use a distinctive phrase from your text, put it in quotes (exact-match) after an “intext:” operator and exclude your own site with “-site”:
- intext:”To limit your search to a particular kind of site — say, only .edu sites or .org or .gov sites” -site:insidesocialmedia.com
Bonus 3: Go online for a telephone directory
Google used to have a phonebook operator so you could search for someone’s phone number; that feature was abandoned in 2010. But you can try , Spy Dialer or 411.com, which not only finds information based on a name or phone number but also an address.
How about you? Have any favorite search tricks?