By Alyssa Gregory

10 Tips for Conducting a More Effective Google Search

By 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?

  • I can’t say that I agree with #1

    The fewer words you use, the more accurate your search will be.

    I’d say it’s the exact opposite. The fewer words, the more BROAD your search will be. Search for “shoes,” you are going to get painfully generic results. Search for “large size steel toe boots” and you’ll find highly targeted results (although fewer of them).

    I think it’s best to use “long tail” searches of 3-5 words to find the most relevant results.

  • Ryan Wray

    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.

    Not really. While the result set returned will be larger when you use less terms, this doesn’t equate to it being more accurate. In fact, by carefully adding terms you query can become more focused to the results you really want.

    While most queries would suit a short search string, there are times where more words gives a better result.

  • RE: #1 – This is what Google says in their guide:

    Describe what you need with as few terms as possible. The goal of each word in a query is to focus it further. Since all words are used, each additional word limits the results. If you limit too much, you will miss a lot of useful information. The main advantage to starting with fewer keywords is that, if you don’t get what you need, the results will likely give you a good indication of what additional words are needed to refine your results on the next search. For example, [ weather cancun ] is a simple way to find the weather and it is likely to give better results than the longer [ weather report for cancun mexico ].

  • That’s probably good advice for Grandma who’s never searched before, but for the majority of people who are looking to be more effective, I still think more detailed long-tail queries are more effective. There are probably a lot of instances where I’d disagree with Google’s guide! :)

  • @Brandon – I know what you’re saying and I agree for some searches. I probably do both methods, especially when I’m struggling to find what I’m looking for. Those are the days I’m plugging in anything and everything to try to get Google to “work!”

  • I think you’ve missed out the single most important thing to remember when searching – you’re not searching for keywords or phrases, you’re searching for things people have written. IME the best way to get good results is to consider how someone would describe what it is you’re looking for – what kind words or sentence would they use. Search for natural language, not abstractions, and you’ll get far more relevant results.

  • Great tips, I think there are many secrets we can dig into Google.

  • Thank you for the wonderful information. With these anyone can have more accurate search results in Google.

  • NetNerd85

    Step 1: Try Google
    Step 2: Realise Google has gone sour
    Step 3: Use Bing

    Hate to admit it but Bing actually returns things I want, unlike Google that only returns spam sites with Google ads on them.

  • Step 3: Use Bing

    That’s certainly very tempting, because I do like the results Bing produces, but to be honest, the results screen is not as clear as the Google one, and there paid results aren’t so clearly separated from the real ones on Bing.

    I really like to be able to quickly scan results from search, and Bing doesn’t scan quickly enough for me.

    Sorry for going off-topic!

  • A neat trick, which can save you a few microseconds: You don’t need the last end quote in a phrase search. If the number of quotes in the query string is not even, Google will automatically insert an end quote at the end of the query string.

  • Matt

    No kidding, hope about tip #1:

    Don’t use google, use bing.

    Anytime you start needing tips on how to search for a site your looking for, the moment you realize Google is failing

  • Aljiro

    I use the currency converter and calculator on google search a lot. :)

    Google is full of little surprises.

  • Matt


    some better tips:
    “10 tips for effectively tying your shows”
    “8 ways to make breathing less of a hassle”

  • tot2ivn

    The first tip is also hard to agree on for me. :)

    Anw, thanks for the post.

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