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Effective Google Search Techniques

Google is one of the most popular and powerful search engines, and it is remarkably easy to use. Yet, with so many millions of webpages available, it can be difficult to find the best results. You might be looking for an obscure piece of information, trying to find an academically respectable source, or simply attempting to filter out the best results from the background noise. By learning to use the optimum search syntax, together with the best search terms, you can greatly improve the quality of the results returned. You can even target your search at particular areas of the Web, or search specific types of resource.

Tip 1: Case Doesn't Matter

Google doesn't care whether search terms are entered in upper case or lower case (or any combination), so you might as well just type everything in lower case. (The main exception to this rule is logical expressions, which are discussed in Tip 4.) Certain short words (stop words) and special characters are ignored in any case, since these are not generally significant to the search.

Tip 2: Searching for Words and Phrases

If you enter multiple keywords then, by default, Google will try to find pages which contain all of the keywords entered. (This is equivalent to linking keywords using logical AND statements.) For best results you should enter the keywords in the order they are likely to appear, although the proximity of search terms is likely to as significant as the order. You can search for an exact phrase by enclosing it inside double quotes. A search may be further refined by mixing a quoted phrase with one or more keywords.

Suppose, for example, you are looking for pages related to search engine optimization (SEO). Entering search engine optimization as three separate keywords will return something like 35 million results which would take you a while to check through! Some experimentation can make this a little more manageable, as shown below:

search engine optimization: 34,700,000 results "search engine optimization": 23,000,000 results "search engine optimization" tips: 1,760,000 results "search engine optimization tips": 196,000 results

We'll see some further ways to reduce this total shortly, while at the same time increasing the relevance of the results.

Tip 3: Including and Excluding Keywords

You can force Google to include results where a keyword is present by prefixing the keyword with a plus symbol, as shown: +keyword. Similarly you can exclude pages containing a keyword by prefixing it with a minus sign, like this: -keyword. To continue with the previous example, suppose you are looking for SEO tips specifically related to the Yahoo search engine. A possible search would be "search engine optimization tips" -google +yahoo. (This returned just over 800 results, when tested.)

Tip 4: Logically Combining Searches

As mentioned previously, separate keywords are linked by implicit AND statements. It is also possible to possible to link keywords by a logical OR. In this case the OR statement must be written in upper case. One possible use of an OR statement is where alternative spellings exist. To take the previous example, given that search engine

optimization is often referred to as SEO, a catch-all search might be "search engine optimization tips" OR "seo tips".

Tip 5: Searching Titles, Body Text and URLs

A web page which mentions the search term(s) in the title is more likely to offer detailed information than one which simply mentions the keyword(s) in passing. For similar reasons, a page which mentions on or more of the keywords as part of the web page URL is likely to offer more relevant information. Although the default is to search everywhere, Google allows you to restrict a search to the title of a web page, or to its URL. Four commands are available, as shown below:

intitle:keyword: search for a single keyword (or quoted expression) in the title allintitle:keyword1 keyword2 ...: search for a list of keywords (and/or quoted expressions) in the title inurl:keyword: search for a single keyword (or quoted expression) in the URL allinurl:keyword1 keyword2 ...: search for a list of keywords (and/or quoted expressions) in the URL

To look at our SEO example for one last time, a search for intitle:"search engine optimization tips" returned 9,380 results when testedwhich is a considerable improvement on the 35 million results produced by our first attempt!

Tip 6: Searching a Website or an Area of the Web

You can use the site: command to restrict a search to a particular web server, Internet domain, or to a group of related domains. For example, to find documents containing the phrase "search help",

produced by Google themselves, an appropriate search term would be "search help". You can make the search as targeted or broad as you choose by omitting portions of the URL, starting at the left end. By omitting the hostname (www for example), as shown with Google in the previous example, the search will target all servers in the specified domain. It can sometimes be useful to omit the first part of the domain name, as this will cause the search to be targeted at similar categories of website. Suppose, for example, that you are looking for advice on the Harvard referencing system to enable you to complete an academic report. A search for site:edu "harvard referencing" guidelines would return matching documents from universities. (Use "harvard referencing" guidelines to find UK-based equivalents.) Google offers a facility to search a named university based on this techniquesee the Google University Search page for more details.

Tip 7: Using Advanced Search Options

Many of the techniques seen so far are available from Google's Advanced search page. This avoids the need to remember command line syntax and may be the preferred option for some users. Please see the Google Advanced Search page for more details.

Tip 8: Getting a Definition

If you are searching for a definition of a term then a couple of useful shortcuts are available. Firstly, looking at the right of the search results page, you may see that some of your search terms are presented as hyperlinks, or in some cases a definition hyperlink may be offered. Figure 1 shows a couple of examples.

Figure 1. Getting a definition of a search term. These hyperlinks actually provide definitions of the search terms, and are provided by An alternative to this approach is to explicitly ask for a definition when performing the search. To do this type the command define:, followed immediately by the keyword or quoted expression to be defined. For example, to find a definition of the term entropy, the syntax define:entropy would be used.

Tip 9: Finding Scholarly Works

If you are attempting to find academic resources, then it can sometimes be difficult to filter out non-academic pages from the returned results. Google's Scholar service can make this much easier, and is available from To see the different types of result returned, try comparing the results returned by Google's standard and Scholar interfaces for the same search. (You could try a search for qed for example, which in the Scholar version would return results related to Quantum Electrodynamics theory.)

Tip 10: Searching Books

Google now offers the ability to search inside books which have been made available in preview form by participating publishers. The Google Books search service is available at Having identified a suitable publication, low resolution images of a selection of pages may be viewed within a scrolling window.

By adopting the techniques explained here you will be able to:

reduce the number of returned results, while increasing the relevance of those results; restrict a search to a particular area of the Internet; focus on particular types of result, including academic resources and books.

While this is obviously relevant for academic research, the methods shown are also recommended for anyone trying to use Google to find the best quality information