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Google Like a Pro
earching with Google can be a magical experience. In seconds, you can tap vast storehouses of information located on servers in virtually every corner of the world. You’re likely to find things that you never suspected existed. Indeed, in mid2008, Google announced that its computers had indexed 1 trillion Web files, or URLs (universal resource locators). That’s also the challenge. If you want this amazing resource to lead you quickly to knowledge you need for problem solving—or even help you recall that old movie star whose name will fill the corner of the crossword puzzle—you must make your queries efficient by learning some advanced searching techniques. Whether you want a quick overview of a topic; a particular fact in a hurry to make a point with a client; to establish some early evidence for an interesting out-of-thebox hypothesis before you set the team to work; or simply to find out if your flight is leaving on time, you need to become something more than your typical Googler. Herewith, a brief guide.
Birgit König is a principal in McKinsey’s Berlin office. Copyright © 2008 McKinsey & Company. All rights reserved.
Fortunately.” see the sidebar. we offer some shortcuts that can save you time and trouble by making your searches more useful. bear in mind that you are only seeing what is publicly available on the Web. By fine-tuning your searches this way. Tip: Use minus signs and quotation marks Among the easiest ways to nar- row your search are using the minus sign to avoid a specific term and using quotation marks to tell the search engine to look for exactly what appears in quotes. you can save time and be reasonably sure that you have been as thorough as a do-it-yourself researcher can expect to be.”) We will also describe how to deal with more open-ended queries—what to do when you are looking for things that you don’t know exist. this is easy to remedy with the minus sign (−) syntax. which eliminates the unwanted listings: . it’s important to understand what Google can and cannot do. Before we start. In general. So single search terms only work well for very specific. often they don’t even want you to know it exists. is to invoke Google’s higher-level indexing capabilities. the best way to get to the information you want. These operators are quite useful if your search term has more than one meaning. we will show you some of Google’s unique time-saving tools for busy travelers. For example.qxd 10/6/08 4:49 PM Page 78 78 THE JOURNAL OF PROBLEM SOLVING What Google can and cannot do In the following pages. Finally. if you are looking for swimming pools and type in pool. or made up entirely. Also. Google’s computers can only “see” what is publicly available on the Internet. we’ll teach you how to search for information from reliable sources. That leaves a universe of information that its owners don’t want you to see. (Again. however. as you will quickly discover when you read through the first few wildly irrelevant hits. “Google Mysteries. Google has no way to intuit which meaning you’re looking for. Despite its grand ambition to index all the information in the world. Making your queries efficient The most common mistake is to assume that Google knows what we are looking for when we enter general search terms.McKinsey_final_4c_cx. they are not terribly bright: They are looking for any Web page that includes your word with a certain frequency and/or within a specified proximity to the beginning of the file. rather than trying to track down information you are sure is there somewhere. Google makes no claims about quality control: It can find all sorts of “facts” that have been recycled. Among other tricks. but in their most basic mode (when they are looking for a simple one-word search term). It doesn’t. for some tips on finding information on the “invisible Web. you’ll find yourself wading through listings about billiards. taken out of context. narrow topics. without slogging through pages of irrelevant listings. Google’s computers are amazingly thorough and fast.
. This tells Google to search for your term among the key words that appear in what is called anchor text. Using quotation marks is particularly useful if you are searching for an exact phrase. no matter how far apart they are. For example. if you put quotation marks around swimming pool. To exclude irrelevant hits. You’ll still get pool.qxd 10/6/08 4:49 PM Page 79 GOOGLE LIKE A PRO 79 pool-billiard Search Result: No billiard sites anymore. But that may not narrow your search sufficiently. it becomes the only search term. Here’s where quotation marks will help you specify the type of pool you’re looking for.com.McKinsey_final_4c_cx. However. use the allinanchor: syntax. you could use quotation marks to search for a phrase: “bloomberg terminal” Search Result: "Bloomberg terminal" generates about 50. Google knows only that the words are there. if you were looking for information about Bloomberg terminals.000 hits. not Mayor Bloomberg or the company Bloomberg LLC.000. * You may not get the same results for these examples when this article appears. due to changes in Web content. not whether they represent the actual content of the file: the words may appear in a passage about a side topic or only in a footnote. If you type the words swimming and pool next to each other without quotes. Google will list sites that have those two terms next to each other. a Web site that auctions domain names.* Tip: Search for hidden keywords and titles Do you still have several thousand hits? Here it is important to understand that Google indexes all those billions of Web pages by performing a full-text search of every file and retrieving pages where your search term or term combination appears. and Google will find only pages where that combination appears. without quotation marks you get more than 230. you can introduce another filter into your search: the keywords that the publisher of the page or a third party has added to generate links to the page—they’re a way to give search engines and other Web sites signals about what the important content inside the page is. along with files that contain both of those search terms. To add this valuable information to your search.
McKinsey_final_4c_cx. This is a tag that Web publishers create to provide precise summary information about the contents of a page. you can restrict your search to the Web page title. Google Blogs. all of which have the Bloomberg terminal as their main topic. Google looks only at the content of the title tag. intitle: “bloomberg terminal” Search Result: You are down to about 340 hits. such as the name of a particular product. .qxd 10/6/08 4:49 PM Page 80 80 THE JOURNAL OF PROBLEM SOLVING allinanchor: “bloomberg terminal” Search Result: This gives you about 10. or by adding special syntax to your query after the search term. This can be quite useful when you are looking for very specific terms. Tip: Choose the sources you want Another way to improve the quality and speed of your results is to specify the type of sources Google should search. Here are some useful filters: site:edu site:gov site:us site:org inurl:news inurl:blog inurl:forum For example: for material from university sites for government sites for US sites for nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) for news sites for blogs for forum discussions “Barack Obama” inurl:forum Search Result: You nd all the forums that discuss Barack Obama topics. You can do this either by going through the various Google sub-sites (Google News. When you type intitle: before your search term. which is as restrictive as it gets: You will get only the pages whose authors included your search term in the title just for Google to find. similar to the headline on a news story.000 fewer hits and – more importantly – hits with improved content focus. Google Scholar). To get yet more precise. which you find on the Google toolbar.
Tip: Limit your search by time period Timeliness is another filter that can narrow your search. for instance. To restrict your search to recently updated sites. the search returns 49.ppt). “Apple vs Microsoft” view:timeline Search Result: You get a bar chart depicting the number of posts per year. This is especially useful if what you are looking for is raw data. view:timeline.doc). in the Excel spreadsheet format. For instance: “Apple vs Microsoft” inurl:2008 Search Results: This gives you the 2.xls). You can specify the type of files to find by using the filetype: command followed by the filename extension for Word (. Another command will tell you when the most information about the case was published. .McKinsey_final_4c_cx. Excel (. This is especially useful when you search for a topic with a long history but what you need is current information. you can use the syntax inurl:2008.qxd 10/6/08 4:49 PM Page 81 GOOGLE LIKE A PRO 81 As you can imagine. It can also give you more confidence in the reliability of the information. This lists only those links that have been published in 2008. But maybe you are interested in the history of this particular case. Adobe PDF (. and other file types. You can click on a year and zoom in to nd relevant articles and a more detailed timeline. taking a moment to specify the type of source can save you quite a bit of time by winnowing the field of listings. which is most likely to be found. PowerPoint (.000 pages. This is the timeline command. Another filter is by type of file. Without the inurl:2008 command.400 pages published in 2008. which involved Microsoft’s use of the graphical user interface popularized by the Mac.pdf). “world economic indicators” letype:xls Search Result: The very rst entry provides you with International Monetary Fund data in a nicely formatted spreadsheet.
aircraft and airline. and Google will run a comprehensive search based on the term and all its synonyms. In those situations. plane.qxd 10/6/08 4:49 PM Page 82 82 THE JOURNAL OF PROBLEM SOLVING Finally. jet. This is where some of Google’s advanced operators come in handy. you can learn more by including its synonyms in the search. we don’t.McKinsey_final_4c_cx. Another way to improve your odds in an open-ended search is to use the related: command to find other Web sites that contain similar information. if you have been searching for information at the CNN news site and want to find other news sites with similar information. In contrast. related:www. No need to reach for your thesaurus. if you have a keyword to start with. Finding something you can’t specify If we only knew exactly what we were looking for! Often. Just type a ~ in front of the keyword. based on the similarity of their content. ight. KPMG.mckinsey. you would type related:cnn. you can combine operators in your commands to gain even greater precision: allintitle: “CO2 emissions” site:edu Search Result: 26 scholarly sites that have CO2 emissions in the title. we typically know something but certainly not enough to specify a good search term. For example.com Search Result: This gives you the home pages of Bain. BearingPoint and AT Kearney. rather than for a specific bit of information. a search for “CO2 emissions” alone returns about 6 million hits to wade through. air. This command can also help you get quick insight into what companies appear to be competitors. among them pages from the Web sites of Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. ~airplane Search Result: You nd sites based on the search terms airplane.com. . and we turn to Google for a quick overview of a field. For example.
and a client talks about his admiration for Dominion. essentially a “fill in the blank” command. You will quickly learn that it may be a Canadian newspaper. what may be most useful are vertical search engines. say you are new to the Firm. or a freight carrier. For consultants. and Mahalo. These sites can get you to relevant results quickly and display listings that would typically be pages down in a Google search. try the search term Google hacks. such as dogpile.McKinsey_final_4c_cx. founded by computer scientists from Carnegie Mellon University.com. a company you have no knowledge of. a power company. offers clusters of related material. which are associated with specific industries or topics. jot down the term and type it into Google later. compile listings from multiple search engines. For instance. Just the start These examples only begin to suggest how.com employs humans to create index pages on topics that can fine-tune your search. but this command is very useful. So-called metasearch engines. Type Dominion is a *. Google is much too complex to cover in a few pages. with a few simple tools. If you are interested in learning more. and you will find a wonderful selection of sites dedicated to dissecting Google’s search syntax. It can save you a lot of trouble. but it is not the only search engine available. you can take the frustration out of searching for information on the Web.qxd 10/6/08 4:49 PM Page 83 GOOGLE LIKE A PRO 83 If you feel adventurous. such as Ask.com. Some general-purpose competitors. Mckinsey is a * Search That wasn’t surprising. We focus on Google because it is the most commonly used search engine. display results in a different format and automatically offer suggestions for narrowing or broadening your search. . If a client drops a reference into a conversation and it’s not appropriate to ask for an explanation. It is pretty well certain that one of these is what your client was referring to. saving time and getting superior results. Several search sites bring a special twist: Clusty. so these examples represent only a personal selection of commands that we have found useful. a theme park. why not try the wild-card operator (*).
which will make viewing some of the results. When the search screen appears. . Google has incorporated shortcuts that give you the answer directly. . . When you step beyond Google and try these other tools.McKinsey_final_4c_cx. easier.com. At this point.net for pharmaceuticals. This is especially helpful when working from your BlackBerry. for many common questions. ides.com for plastics.” and type www. Google tools for a life on the road In its never-ending quest for maximum Internet relevance. you may want to bookmark the site. Google continues to add handy features. click “go to . . we suggest you choose Classic view from the list at the bottom of the Google Mobile page. without requiring you to click onto the Web site where the information resides. you will typically find that you can use search commands similar to the ones described for narrowing a Google search. If you’re new to Web surfing from your BlackBerry. So. and pharmweb. here’s how to get started: Choose the “Internet connection” icon. especially the math.com for the paper industry. click the wheel.google.qxd 10/6/08 4:49 PM Page 84 84 THE JOURNAL OF PROBLEM SOLVING Examples include paperpundit.
Time in Frankfurt. What’s the current conversion rate from the pound? Convert 1 pound to euros Search Result: 1 British pound = 1.qxd 10/6/08 4:49 PM Page 85 GOOGLE LIKE A PRO 85 Let’s assume you are about to fly from London to Frankfurt and want to know whether your flight is delayed.7479917 mi German cab drivers rarely take credit cards.On schedule Departure 6:25 AM. so you will have to get some euros. To calculate the flight time. In this example. ightstats. you would need to know the time difference. but you’ve never grasped the metric system.com Arrival is in local time. we typed Lufthansa 4743 and obtained the following information: Lufthansa 4743 Search Result: Track status of LH 4743 from London (LHR) to Frankfurt (FRA) 26 Sep 2008 . Germany You plan to take a cab to the hotel. Google has that covered. which the invitation says is about 35 kilometers from the airport.McKinsey_final_4c_cx. Arrival 8:55 AM www. of course. How many miles is that? 35 km in mi Search Result: 35 kilometers = 21. too: frankfurt time Search Result: 10:32 am Friday (CEST) . and then search. Just type in the airline and flight number.2591582 Euros .
Germany . pi for calculations involving circles. You’ll have quite bit of time to kill before your noon meeting. such as area code lists.com/help/features. plus links to other handy functions. You just type the term and click search to get the result: log(100) Search Result: Log(100) = 2 Useful notations include: 2^5 and e^2 for exponents. which is especially nice if you have been frustrated by the BlackBerry’s hard-to-maneuver and limited arithmetic functions. go to http://www.Add to iGoogle 24 C Current: Clear Wind: S at 10 km/hr Fri Sat Sun Mon What else can Google help you with when you’re between laptop connections? It can serve as a virtual calculator. . ln(10) for logarithms.qxd 10/6/08 4:49 PM Page 86 86 THE JOURNAL OF PROBLEM SOLVING Now that you’ve loaded up on euros at Heathrow. sin(90) for trigonometry. For a complete list of math functions. and 5! for factorials. That all depends on the weather. though. You can check the forecast for Frankfurt: Frankfurt weather Search Result: Weather for Frankfurt.McKinsey_final_4c_cx.html.google. Maybe you can find that anniversary gift and take in the sights in the old town area. you think about the day ahead.
pages that rate many links themselves). how does the button “I’m feeling lucky” work? When you make this choice. placing more weight on votes cast by pages that are “important” (i. a link from page A to page B is interpreted as a vote by A for B. the algorithm will automatically give your page a higher rank. This has inspired some sites to sell links from their high-ranking pages.whitehouse. Google also considers who is voting. there is 500 times as much information in the “dark” or “invisible” Web as on the “surface” Web that Google and other search engines have access to. If you are indeed lucky. If you can convince high-ranking pages to link to your page. Much of it is in the libraries of academic institutions. By some estimates.g.e. which are not open to the “spidering” software that search engines use. you’ll see your perfect match.. which reduces the quality of the search. and Google discourages the practice—including by dropping the page rank of sellers caught in the act. www. without seeing other search results and sponsored links. Can you manipulate your page rank? Yes.gov/robots:txt).McKinsey_final_4c_cx. This gives you a list of file names that have been hidden. Google takes you directly to the first search result. and sites try it all the time.. Does Google access everything on the Web? No. You can see the type of pages they’re hiding by typing “/robots:txt” behind the site address (e.qxd 10/6/08 4:49 PM Page 87 GOOGLE LIKE A PRO 87 Google mysteries On the Google search page. that’s easy. bypassing the results page. Sometimes owners of Web sites selectively hide pages from public search. In addition to counting the number of votes. . in principle. Sometimes sites and pages are hidden because the information is proprietary—as in sites that require a registration or membership (such as the McKinsey intranet). Who decides which pages to list first? Google uses an algorithm that ranks pages according to the number of times other pages refer to it.
the less likely you are to find a cached page. I see a link that looks useful. You can try to look for the old version in Google’s cache. What happened? Probably the page has changed and is no longer available at its original address. The busier the site. but when I click on the link. a temporary storage area in a computer’s memory that holds a snapshot of a Web page to speed up access. Place the command “cache:” in front of the URL to retrieves the latest cached version of the site (Google will indicate when it was last cached). Your missing link might be there.qxd 10/6/08 4:49 PM Page 88 88 THE JOURNAL OF PROBLEM SOLVING In the results list from Google.McKinsey_final_4c_cx. the page is gone. .