Google Advanced Search Tricks

Everyone knows how to use Google but not everyone knows how to use it well.  If you can’t find what you want after simply typing the phrase in the Google search box then it might be time to pull out some advanced tricks. I’m only going to show you four in this post but there are entire books that have been written on using special queries to make Google bend to your will.

Let’s dive into four operators:

  1. Dash
  2. Site:
  3. Star
  4. Not Yet Visited and Visited

1. Use the Dash to Exclude

Sometimes when you’re searching for online you’ll get inundated with irrelevant results.  So you just keep scrolling down the search results and clicking next until you find something that looks relevant.

That’s one approach; however, there’s a better way to exclude words that are spelled the same as your search term but have different meanings.  I’m talking about homographs: words that are spelled the same but have different meanings.  Let me explain:

Say you want to search for the phrase lion but you’re not interested in the big cats that roam the sub-Saharan plains of Africa.  Instead, you want to search for Apple’s eponymous operating system. To filter unrelated results you can type this:

lion -cat

Of course, you can just search for Mac OS X lion instead but that’s more characters and isn’t as elegant.  Here’s a better example: let’s continue our big cat theme and say you want to know the top speed of the Jaguar cat but don’t care about the automobiles of the same name, you can enter this in search box:

jaguar speed -car

There you go, now you’re search results will only show sites that are related to the land speed of Jaguar cats but not the car.

Google Exclude a word search operator

2. Use site: to search within a specific site

Other times you know your favorite site published an article about something you wanted to read but when you type the article title in Google, a bunch of results cascade in from a myriad of unwanted places.

For example, let’s say you remember reading something on http://www.slashdot.org about Microsoft cutting the price of their infamous Surface tablet; however, you’ve been to Slashdot’s homepage, used its search facility and can’t find it anywhere.  So you visit Google but when you type the keywords into the search box you start drowning in a deluge of irrelevant sites.  All the sites have written about the Surface price cuts but that coveted Slashdot article isn’t showing up.

How can you force Google to just search Slashdot?

microsoft surface price cuts site:slashdot.org

The key word here is the site: operator.  That’s the qualifier that tells Google to only search a specific website for a specific keyword or phrase.

Here’s what it looks like before the site: qualifier.  You can see a bunch of hits from theverge and a few other sites you don’t care about.

Google before searching within a specific site

But after using the site qualifier you’ve sharpened your focus on Slashdot.org and instantly found what you wanted in the first hit.

Google after searching within a specific site

3. Use the asterisk as a wildcard

Or perhaps you just need a way to express a placeholder.  For example, if you’re looking for variations of a popular quote you can insert the star wherever you would like Google to fill in the blanks.  So “a Penny Saved is a Penny earned” is a rather cliché phrase; however, to find creative variations, you could enter this:

a * saved is a * earned

Google advanced search operator asterisk wildcard

4. Visited and Not Yet Visited Filters

If you are logged into Google+ you can filter your search results to only show sites you’ve visited before or to only show sites that you’ve never visited.  You have to dig a little to find this option, but it works really well.

For example, sign in to Google+ then do a Google Search.  In the search engine results page click the Search Tools button just underneath the search box.  You’ll see three options materialize into view:

  • Any Time
  • All Results
  • Your Location, in my case it’s New York, NY

Click All results and change it to Not yet visited.  Instantly, the search page refreshes only displaying relevant links to sites that you haven’t visited.  Similarly, changed it to visited to only see the sites that you’ve visited before.

Neato.

Google Not Yet Visited

Google Visited

The Bottom Line

Most of the time you can find what you want on Google; however, other times you need precision.  Perhaps you only want to search vimeo for a video but not youtube or maybe you’re looking for a creative spin on an old saying, or a way to exclude words that are spelled the same but have different meanings.  That’s when the site:, star, and dash operators come in handy.  You won’t use these all the time but it’s nice to know it’s there.  Give it a shot.

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