Advanced Google queries

Scott Willan
February 27, 2017

FirmBee / Pixabay

Recently I have been doing some research tasks which naturally require a lot of Googling. A recurring theme of these tasks was frustration. Frustration from finding the same 5 results over and over, results with only one or none of the topics you are looking for, or results sourced from disreputable sites. This led me to research research tips and tricks, the result of which I would like to share with you.


The first and simplest trick is to use quotation marks. This only returns results that contain your search term exactly. We can see this by searching “pipe wrench kool aid” with and without the quotes. Without the quotes we see a lot of results, none of which containing ‘pipe wrench kool aid’ in the title. With the quotes we get the definitive answer of no results. Why would anyone use the term “pipe wrench kool aid” after all.


Something that can be used in conjunction with quote marks, is an asterisk*. This is a wildcard, which means “I don’t know what goes here”. This tip is especially useful for finding the name of that song that you have stuck in your head. The asterisk is not only great for narrowing you search but it can also be used to broaden your search.

The ‘-‘ operator, like in regular old mathematics, is used to subtract something. Putting a ‘-‘ in front of a word means results returned will not contain that word in their title. For example: “car” -rental. This will return results that contain “car” but not “rental”.  Just ignore the advertisements at the top of the page as they are not affected by query operators.


There is a second use for the “” operator with the opposite function being controlled by the ~ operator. Google has some clever functionality by default where it will not only search for you exact term, but also it synonyms. This can be convenient, but also has the potential to be a problem. Using the “” operator forces Google to use the exact original term and not its synonyms. On the other hand, ‘~’ tells google the exact opposite; that you want results returned with synonyms as well.


Have you ever gotten excited when a result for that obscure query is returned, only to find out your keywords are used paragraphs apart? With the AROUND() function you no longer have to worry about this happening. If you want to find two words that are used close to one another you can specify how many words they must occur within. An example could be “George Bush” AROUND(80) “Poncho”. This means I want the words “George Bush” and “poncho” to occur within 80 words of one another.


If you are looking for something within a specific site but their own search is non-existent or not very good, you can use google to search within any site.  For example “bus knight” This functionality also applies to top level domains. So if we’re only looking for sites within New Zealand we could search “mens shoes”


Keeping with the theme of shoes, we can also look within a given numerical range using the X..Y operator. If our budget is between $200 and $300 we can use $200..$300. For example “mens shoes” $200..$300 will return results for mens shoes between $200 and $300 that are available on NZ sites.


Something I just introduced without mention is the $ operator. This will return results with a given cost associated with them. This can be used with a single value or within a range.


As a quick recap; [“”] will return the exact word or phrase, [*] is a wild card for when you forget the exact words to the song stuck in your head, [-] will ignore results with a given word, [~] will include results with synonyms of a given word, [AROUND()] will only return results when 2 words are within a given range, [site:] will only return results from a given domain, [..] can be used to specify a range. This is especially hand when combined with [$] which specifies you are looking for cost. There are more complex and specific tricks beyond these simple operators, and now you have the tools to find out what they are.
From hard data to fluid design – Scott.

Scott blogs about how design and making things look good no matter if its a website or data. He is great at making data consumable and therefore valuable.

Connect with Scott on LinkedIn or read his other blogs here.

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