Mastering Google: 13 Tips for more efficient searching

Google knows everything. Well, maybe not everything but it can certainly help you find the information and solutions to a lot the things that you need an answer for. It is very rare that I will search for an answer to something without eventually finding what I need. This isn't always immediate and sometimes it takes a few tweaks of my query to get it but I persevere. Why do I do this? Yes, it is partly because I am the sort of person that has to find out the answer once I've asked myself something. However, it is mainly because I trust Google will find the answer because I adamantly believe that of the 2.7 billion users that are now connected by the internet, at least one of them will have asked the same question as me and at least one other will have known the answer. Google currently indexes over 15 billion webpages. It is more than likely that the information you're looking for is out there. I thought others may find it useful if I shared some of the tricks that you can use to make sure Google finds me just what I'm looking for.

Use the correct tab Use the correct Google Search Tab Lets start with the basics. When you use Google, by default it will present you with webpages that it thinks matches your queries. However, there are other ways to make sure Google gives you more relevant and useful search results. You've probably used Images and Maps before but don't forget to use the other options available to you. News picks up stories from popular news outlets and the More tab has options such as Video, Books and Apps to help narrow your results.

The Easy ways to filter

Use the additional tools to narrow down Google Search results To the left of the tabbed filters are some basic search tools that are incredibly powerful. The ones I use most are the ones allowing me to specify a date range if you know when an event happened or an article was published. Especially with app development, getting only those articles published in the last year can be incredibly beneficial to remove results with depreciated methods saving me from wasting time with outdated techniques. This can be used in conjunction with all the methods below to really drill down the results to find you exactly what you need

Excluding terms from your search ( - )

If you want to search for a group of terms but exclude a keyword which is commonly associated with them simply add a dash ( - ) before the word you want to exclude. The above example would search for 'manchester city' but exclude the word football. This is particularly useful for those living in Jersey who often receive results from the State of New Jersey in the USA (It sort of makes sense since there are 9 million residents in New Jersey and only 90 thousand in old Jersey). Consider using a query like 'pizza jersey -nj -new' to help you narrow down results. Remember, the exclude keyword can be used in front of other operators to help you refine your results.

Search for similar terms ( ~ )

The tidle ( ~ ) allows you to search for similar keywords. In the above example, as well as looking for the word 'configuring' Google will look for common synonyms such as setup that people may have used. This is really handy because people may phrase things slightly differently to you and this operator helps you cut down the number of times you need to refine your search. It also cuts down the number of alternate phrases you have to use by consolidating them into one query.

Find exact matches to a phrase ( "" )

By putting a phrase in quotes ( "" ) Google will look for an exact match. This is brilliant for finding songs you know part of the lyrics to. If you are looking for famous quotes, be careful, often the phrase has been adjusted slightly over time so looking for exact matches won't always work. The above search query will find the exact phrase "smoke and lasers" along with the keyword 'lyrics', hopefully returning a list of sites with Wilkinson's Afterglow.

Not sure what you're looking for? ( * )

Google interprets an asterix ( * ) as a wildcard. This means it fills it in with anything that it feels is relevant to your other terms. In the example above I've used it in conjunction with exact phrases ( "" ) but this isn't it's only use. It also works well with Google predictive search to show you a list of queries that other users have searched for in the drop down list.

Using multiple queries ( OR )

I've included this for the sake of completeness but it isn't an operator I use often. By using OR (must be in uppercase) you can look for results that include one or the other of your phrases. Works well when looking for places or items when the items don't necessarily have a connection. The above example looks for hotels in Leogang or Maria Alm (beautiful ski resorts in Austria), returning results for both.

Looking on a specific site ( site: )

If you want to search only a specific site prefix the site's address with site: (colon required - no space following). The above example will search for the keywords ancient and history only on the website manchester.ac.uk. This one is particularly useful for finding what you need on sites that have awful search features built into their site.

Looking for sites similar to another ( related: )

The related operator (related:) will find sites that are similar to a website you already know. The above example returns sites like Next, Selfridges, Debenhams and Argos (really?). Unfortunately it doesn't let you also add other keywords ("related:ft.com Dominos") wouldn't find articles on similar related sites about Dominos. It does, however, provide a great starting point to find other websites that may offer you insightful content.

Looking for a particular file ( filetype: )

If you are looking for a particular type of file the ( filetype: ) operate is perfect. It can be followed by things like doc, psd, jpeg, ppt to narrow down the documents you are looking for. The above example searches for the keywords domino's annual report in PDF files.

Between a range of numbers ( .. )

I find myself using this when I want to range date range like in the above example. Above, Google will search for the keywords 'England rugby captain' along with the 1980, 1990 and all the years in-between. The range operator ( .. ) gives you a lot of power when searching with numbers and has a range of applications such as finding products that exist within a certain price range too.

Get a definition of a word ( define: )

This is really simple. If you're unsure of a definition of a word you can prefix it with the operator ( define: ) and stick it in a Google search bar. Above any results for the word it should give you a definition of the word from Dictionary.com

Access a site if it isn't working ( cache: )

This doesn't always work but it is fantastically helpful when it does. Sometimes a site or resource you need has gone down and the page won't load. If that is the case, copy and paste the URL (web address) into the search bar and prefix it with 'cache:'. This will tell return a copy of the page that has been cached (stored) by Google. Be aware that any links on the page will link to the live versions of the page and not the cache so you may need to repeat the process to navigate through the site; tedious but at least you can look through it.

Put it all together

The tips that I've provided above can all be used in conduction to refine your searches. For example, "julius caesar -site:wikipedia.org" is a search that I'm sure would make your lectures very happy but excluding the site wikipedia.org from the results. Sometimes you won't find exactly what you want straight away and it may take several rounds of search refinement to really drill down to what you need but hopefully this article has given you some tools that you can use to find more accurate and informative results.

Also, for a bit of fun, imagine what it would be like if Google was a person you asked your questions to:

Google is a powerful search engine but most only use it to a fraction of its potential. Here are 13 tips to help you get the most out of Google search.

2014/01/30

I would love to hear your thoughts, comments and insights about this article. You can get in touch with me through any of the options on the Contact Page.