10 Tips for Conducting a More Effective Google Search

Alyssa Gregory

google searchEffective searching is a powerful skill. Think about how often you jump over to Google to look something up during your day. If you understand the nuances of a search engine, you have the ability to find what you’re looking for quickly, and potentially find information you may not have specifically thought about but adds value to your query.

Like most of us, I’ve been frustrated by unsuccessful searches; sometimes it’s just very challenging to find the right combination of keywords and phrases. Have you reviewed the tips provided by Google for doing better searches? I hadn’t. And when I started looking through Google’s search guide, I realized how much quicker I could conduct an effective search if I used the suggested techniques.

I’m sharing the top 10 tips I found most useful — some new and some just great reminders. Hopefully you’ll learn a few new nuggets to improve your own searches.

1. Keep it short: The fewer words you use, the more accurate your search will be. Every time you add a new word to the mix, you limit your results.

2. Use quotes: Double quotes around a set of words tells Google to consider the exact words in that exact order without any change.

3. Search a web site: Google allows you to specify that your search results must come from a given website. For example, try alyssa site:sitepoint.com to get your Alyssa fix.

4. Search a domain extension: Use the “site” operator above to search a whole class of sites. Try elearning site:.edu to find online learning tools provided by an educational institution.

5. Tell it what you don’t want: Use a minus sign (-) to signify words you do not want to appear in your results.  The minus sign should appear immediately before the word and should be preceded with a space (so it’s not confused with a hyphen).

6. Be picky about what you don’t want: You can exclude as many words as you want by using the minus sign in front of each one. You can also exclude more than just words. For example, place a hyphen before the “site” operator to exclude a specific site from your search results. Try this: web developer forum -site:sitepoint.com (not that you’d ever want to exclude SitePoint!).

7. Search for this or that: Use OR between words (in all CAPS) or the pipe symbol (|) to allow either one of several words.

8. Use the wildcard: The asterik (*) tells Google to treat the star as a placeholder for any unknown term(s) and then find the best matches. Try: w3c founded *

9. Avoid synonyms: Force Google to skip their synonym suggestions by using a plus sign (+). This works just like using double quotes around your search terms. Try a search using both methods and compare the results.

10. Do a specialty search: Using certain syntax can turn Google Search into an even more powerful tool:

  • Sports scores: Type the team or league name.
  • Track packages: Type your tracking number for UPS, Fedex or USPS packages.
  • Weather: Type “weather” followed by the name of the city or zipcode.
  • Unit conversion: Enter your desired conversion for height, weight and volume measurements (i.e. 5 cups in ounces).
  • Calculator: Enter the calculation you’d like the answer to (I use this one a lot!).

Did you learn anything new? What’s your best search tip to add to the list?