Smooth Operators: Sharpen your Google Search Skills

Coming soon to the World Wide Web: Everything. The perpetually evolving sum of human knowledge available online. Anywhere. Anytime. So, what are you looking for? Information concerning something, somewhere, about somebody.. You know it’s there somewhere. Sure, you could waste time by digging through that immense labyrinth of browser bookmarks, maybe eventually finding that one link that may or may not lead you to the page that you remember.. No thanks. The Web is far too rich in information to limit it with a few bookmarks. Ah yes, tags — that’s it! Social bookmarking to the rescue. Okay now, let’s see, under which tag will I find those two great links on "postmodern existentialism"? Maybe check three or four tags before realizing that several months have passed and that newer, more relevant information is probably available elsewhere on the internet. Hmm..

While tagging and bookmarking each serve useful, practical purposes, the hyper-dynamic flux of information available online requires a more agile, flexible, and instantaneous solution: search. Search is fluid, enabling limitless access to an infinite online resource. Unlike static methods of informational management, fruitful navigation via search is limited only by your ability to understand and deploy successful search strategies. As many web veterans are aware, useful search methods revolve around keywords and term constructs. Deftly cutting through several million search results to find precisely the desired content requires great skill. Although such skill is the result of much practice, there are a few tricks that will strengthen the skills of the budding n00blet and sharpen the swords of the professional surfer.

Aside from countless hours of experience, the most powerful search tool is the Search Engine itself. That’s right, the inherent search operators provided by Google, MSN, or Yahoo! enable you to refine queries, exclude excess, and restrict results. Incorporating a choice set of search operators into your search routine is one of the best things you can do to increase the efficiency with which you locate content on the internet. In this article, we present a fairly comprehensive selection of Google search operators and other search tricks. Many of the operators discussed here are accessible from Google’s Advanced Search page1. Further, while these search operators function with Google specifically, many search engines employ similar — if not identical — operators, such that functional induction would prove beneficial. At the very least, even a casual read through this article should provide insight to operational possibilities for both Google and "non-Google" search engines..

Search Operators [ ^ ]

site:

The site: operator is used to determine the number of site pages indexed by Google. For example, if I wanted to know the number of pages from Perishable Press that have been crawled and indexed by Google, I would use site:perishablepress.com, which would return the total number of pages (in the upper-right portion of the search results) along with the links and their associated descriptions (if any). This search may be refined to check the number of indexed pages from a single directory by using site:http://domain.tld/directory/. This also works to check if a specific page has been indexed: site:http://domain.com/directory/document.html.

link:

The link: operator is used to summon all of the indexed pages that link to the specified domain, directory, or document. For example, if I wanted to know which indexed pages are linking to any page at Perishable Press, I would use link:perishablepress.com, which would return the total number2 of linking pages (in the upper-right portion of the search results) along with the links and their associated descriptions (if any). This trick also works for specific directories (link:http://domain.tld/directory/) and pages (link:http://domain.tld/directory/document.html). Further, to filter out all internal links to your site and return a list of strictly external links to your domain, directory, or document by using link:domain.tld -site:domain.tld. Note that the Yahoo! syntax for this trick is slightly different: linkdomain:domain.tld -site:domain.tld.

cache:

The cache: operator displays all currently cached content from any domain, directory, or document. For example, to verify that Google is not caching any content from Perishable Press, I would use cache:perishablepress.com, which should return no results (by design). For sites with cached content, the search query will return the total number of cached pages along with their associated links and descriptions. To check for cached content for a specific directory or document, use cache:http://domain.tld/directory/ and cache:http://domain.tld/directory/document.html, respectively. Of course, to check for the cached presence of a dynamic URL, use cache:http://domain.tld/?dynamic.php. Further, any additional terms that are included with the cache:domain.tld query will appear highlighted within the cached content. For example, cache:perishablepress.com monza will return all matching cache content and highlight every instance of the term "monza".

info:

The info: operator is used to display the information possessed by Google concerning the site in question. For example, if I wanted to see the information about Perishable Press displayed by Google, I would use info:perishablepress.com. Try it, you may be surprised! Note: the info: query is also executed whenever a specific URL is entered as the search term.

related:

The related: operator is used to find all indexed pages that are "similar" to your site, according to Google. For example, related:perishablepress.com would return all indexed pages that are in some way similar to Perishable Press. Hmmm…

define:

The define: operator returns a definition for the specified terms. According to Google, multiple references are used in returning a definition, which defines the exact phrase used in the query. For example, if I enter define:electric light orchestra, Google will display a definition for the phrase "electric light orchestra" verbatim.

safesearch:

The safesearch: operator is used to exclude adult content from search results. An excellent example is provided by Google, which demonstrates that a search such as "safesearch:sex education" will return pages concerning "sex education" while excluding pages containing explicit "adult" content (e.g., pr0n sites).

stocks:

The stocks: operator return stock information for the specified stock ticker symbols. Yawn…

Search Query Modifiers [ ^ ]

site:

The site: modifier is used to limit search results to pages from a specific site. For example, a search query such as monza site:perishablepress.com will return all indexed content containing the term "monza" exclusively from within the perishablepress.com domain. To restrict search results to only pages from .com domains, use monza site:com. Note that it is also possible to exlcude a particular site by using the -site:domain.tld modifier.

allintitle:

The allintitle: modifier is used to limit search results to pages containing all of the given search terms in the title. For example, a search query such as allintitle:scary monsters will return only those pages containing the terms "scary" and "monza" in the title. Note that it is also possible to search for titles that do not contain any given set of search terms via the -allintitle:domain.tld modifier.

intitle:

The intitle: modifier is used to limit search results to pages containing a specific term in the title. For example, a search query such as intitle:scary monza will return only those pages containing the term "scary" in the title and the term "monza" anywhere in either the document or title. Note that it is also possible to search for titles that do not contain any specific search term via the -intitle:domain.tld modifier.

allinurl:

The allinurl: modifier is used to limit search results to pages containing the specified search terms in the URL. For example, a search such as allinurl:scary monsters will return only those pages containing both "scary" and "monza" in the URL. Also, allinurl: search queries ignore non-alphanumeric characters.

inurl:

The inurl: modifier is used to limit search results to pages containing a specific term in the URL. For example, a search query such as inurl:scary monsters will return only those pages containing the term "scary" in the URL and the term "monza" anywhere in either the document or URL.

date:

The date: modifier is used to search pages from within the previous 3, 6, or 12 months. For example, a search such as "pink floyd" date:3 returns all indexed pages about monza racing from within the past six months.

[#]…[#]

The [#]...[#] modifier is used to search within a range of numbers. For example, a search such as cars $50,000...250,000 runs a search for ipods within the $50,000 – $250,000 price range.

Basic Search Operators [ ^ ]

Find all pages containing…

this that thing
returns all pages containing the terms "this", "that", and "thing"
this OR that
returns all pages containing either the term "this" or "that"
"this that and the other thing"
returns all pages containing the exact phrase "this that and the other thing"
this -that
returns all pages containing the term "this" but not the term "that"
this +that
returns all pages containing the terms "this" and "that"
~this
returns all results containing the term "this" or any of its synonyms
define:this
returns a definition of the term "this"
convert x units to other units
converts value from one unit to another (e.g., convert 3 minutes to seconds)
this * that
returns all results containing the terms "this" and "that" separated by one or more terms

Mathematical Operators [ ^ ]

Do the math…

  • + – addition (e.g., type 77 + 33 and hit enter)
  • - – subtraction (e.g., type 77 - 33 and hit enter)
  • * – multiplication (e.g., type 77 * 33 and hit enter)
  • / – division (e.g., type 77 / 33 and hit enter)
  • % – percentage (e.g., type 77% of 33 and hit enter)
  • ^ – exponent (e.g., type 77 ^ 33 and hit enter)

References