By Kevin Ho
You can do many things with a simple Google search — including translation, unit conversion, and dice rolling, among other things. Normally, this is perfectly fine for simple questions, but sometimes you have to find something obscure or specific. A simple Google search is inadequate for that task, and it often leads you to drift between several pages of search results with nothing to gain.
Google’s search operators — special commands and characters that you can use with your search terms — can help you make the most of Google’s powerful search functionality.Tweet
Luckily, when you need tools for a more precise search, Google’s operators are the way to go. An operator is a special character or command that offers additional search capabilities compared to a simple text search. With many different ways to narrow your search results, the use of these operators together can shave minutes off of an otherwise onerous search.
In this article, we will go over a few of the most useful operators and how they can be used, including:
- Using quotation marks to search for entire phrases;
- Searching within a single domain (for example, only searching through pages found at http://www.congress.gov) or within a a particular site suffix (such as only looking for sites ending with “.gov” or “.edu”);
- Including and/or excluding words in your search using the plus sign and minus sign operators;
- Searching for words in the text, title, or URL of a webpage; and
- Using many search operators together.
Read on for our quick primer on these useful operators to help you find what you are looking for on Google quickly and easily.
A Short List of Helpful Operators
Google operators work by manipulating the keywords that are processed in your search. These keywords are important for determining your search results and the formatting of these keywords -whether they must be together, in the title, or can be separated- are just as important as what keywords you are looking for. Here are some operators you should get acquainted with when it comes to improving your search:
Use Quotation Marks (“”) to Search for Phrases
Definition: Search the exact term or phrase in that order
Example: “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself”
Use quotation marks when you are doing an exact search for words in a phrase in a certain order.
Some of the most insightful things that we can learn about are wise words from people in the past. If you want to find an exact piece of information that someone said, you can put those words in quotation marks.
You can use many different quoted terms in a single Google Search. Just make sure that each phrase in quotes has quotation marks at the beginning and end of the phrase, and that they are separated by a space (for example, ‘”nothing to fear” “fear itself”‘).
Search within a Website or Web Suffix with the “site:” Operator
Definition: Search only the specified domain name (or suffix)
Example searching for a suffix: “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself” site:.gov
This search returns all instances of this quote that are found on U.S. government websites, which end with “.gov” (You can also search for site:.edu to return results only found on international university websites, as we have previously discussed).
Example searching only a specific website: “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself” site:house.gov
Sometimes we know what we are looking for, but only want to find it in a particular source. That’s where this operator comes in handy. You can use the site: operator to search an entire website (such as www.house.gov) or an entire web suffix (such as .com, .org, .gov, or .edu). The site: operator can help you filter search results by finding information only from a particular website or even a particular type of website.
Look for Specific Words with the Plus Sign (+)
Definition: Search for the exact term (phrases must be entered in quotes)
Example: “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself” +roosevelt
When searching for something, we sometimes need to narrow down our results by adding in other words. This may be useful if what you are looking for tends to get mixed up with unrelated content.
You can combine several words together as well; simply list each term with a plus sign immediately before it (no space). Separate each word you wish to include with a space (for example, ‘+fear +itself’ searches for all webpages which have both the words ‘fear’ and ‘itself’). These words will appear in the search page in any order. Remember that to search several words in a specific order as a phrase, you will need to place the phrase in quotation marks.
Exclude Specific Words from Search Results with the Minus Sign (-)
Definition: Remove words from search results
Example: “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself” -roosevelt
Using the minus sign operator ensures that the word or phrase (remember to use quotes for phrases) will not show up in Google’s search results. This is the other way of singling out your sources, in which you filter out extraneous information so that only what you want can be seen.
In the following example, we search for the quote “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself” without mentions of Roosevelt (the quote’s author). In the search results we only see instances of the quote in which Roosevelt is not mentioned.
Look for Specific Text on a Webpage with “allintext:“
Definition: Search for text appearing in the page of the article
Example: allintext: DIY dog toys
This operator allows you to search for text that appears in a webpage. All of the search terms following the operator must be on the page for Google to include the page in search results.
Notice that you do not need to use quotation marks here to search for a phrase. Not only are we searching for something, we are searching for several words together.
Search Webpage Titles with “allintitle:“
Definition: All text must appear in the title of the article
Example: allintitle: dog toys you can make at home
The easiest way to find the content you want is to search for an article whose title contains the words you want to see. This operator allows you to find the sources you need by focusing on the title.
Using allintitle can be an easy way to look for pages about a given topic to see what is out there on the web about the topic.
Look for Specific Web Addresses (URLs) with “inurl:”
Definition: Words specified must be in a website address (URL)
Example: inurl: Common App
The “inurl:” operator filters searches by words in the web address or URL. Often, the URL name can be indicative of the content of the website or blog article.
The inurl operator can be useful, but if you are looking for many different words in a URL, you may wish to use allinurl.
You Can Use Google Search Operators Together
There are some powerful combinations you can create with these operators to achieve spectacular search results. You can also use operators together to find obscure sources, articles, and other sources of knowledge that are playing hard to get. Whether it’s historical sources or obscure topics, it can be difficult to find what you are looking for on Google. Google operators help you get around this problem by allowing you to narrow down the keywords and terms you are or are not looking for.
When using #Google Search, you can combine search operators to help you find what you are looking for.Tweet
Here’s an example of a search which includes many different types of operators:
You are looking for authoritative information from the U.S. government on fuel cells using nanotechnology. However, you want to exclude fuel cells that use lithium-ion batteries in your search. You enter the following search terms:
nanotechnology +”fuel cells” site:.gov -lithium
This searches for all nanotechnology articles talking about fuel cells on U.S. government websites which do not mention lithium (e.g., fuel cells made of lithium-ion batteries).
Use Google More Effectively with Search Operators
Although they may seem complicated, operators are quite intuitive after a bit of practice. Google Search operators are a great way for any web user to make the most out of Google.
Whether you’re conducting research for work or school, or just finding that brilliant blog article from a long time ago, Google’s operators give you the tools you need to find things on the web quickly and easily!
This article about Google Search operators is Part 2 of our three-part How to Google Better series. Check out Part 1 (Google’s Non-Search Features) and Part 3 (How to Use Google Scholar), or read our other articles about Google, Search Engines, and SEO.