Have you ever tried Googling Chinese economy news, and been presented with the ramblings of someone who’s depressed about the economy from watching the news, so went out for a Chinese takeaway? Google and other major search engines are good and getting better all the time, but they can’t read your mind.
Here are some of the lesser-known tricks for getting an exact result from whichever search engine you use.
1. Use the Exact Wording
If you’re looking for an exact phrase, and don’t want examples where the words occur separately, the simplest solution is to put quotes around it. If you search for Joe Bloggs without quotes, you’ll also be given pages where, for instance, Joe Brown and Fred Bloggs are both mentioned somewhere.
Entering “Joe Bloggs”, on the other hand, will only call up references to that specific name, making it far easier to find the right one.
2. The Minus Sign
Using quotes will mean your list only includes actual people called Joe Bloggs, but it may also be full of references to the Joe Bloggs jeans brand. If you don’t want that, entering “Joe Bloggs” -jeans will exclude all those.
Suppose you want results that mention either of two (or more) words? Normal searches will only show you results with all words present, whether consecutive or not, but if you separate words with OR, you’ll be given all relevant results.
4. Allowing Synonyms
The problem with exact phrasing is that it can exclude results that may be relevant. You may be interested in plumbing at universities, but it’s possible that exactly the perfect webpage refers to them as colleges.
If you enter plumbing ~university, the search engine will also look for synonyms of university.
5. Search One Site Only
If you get frustrated by the inefficient search engines on large websites, you can enter the specific site or domain into Google to search directly from there. For instance, entering site:theguardian.com will list only results from the Guardian’s website. Combined with other tricks, like quotes or minus, you can get very precise results.
6. Using an Asterisk
An asterisk acts as a wild card, letting you leave out part of the term so the search engine can complete it, or allow for variations. For instance, entering design* will bring up design, designer, designed, designing etc.
It’s the search equivalent of the blank tile in Scrabble.
7. Searching a Defined Range
If you want to search for all values between two points, add two full stops and a space between the two extremes. For instance, entering british prime minister 1920.. 1950 will allow you to find results for all prime ministers between those two dates.
8. Searching for a Word in a Page’s Body, Title or URL
You may just want to find a word in a particular aspect of a webpage, such as its title or URL, or else only within the body. You can use the qualifiers inurl, intitle and intext to search the URL, title and body respectively. If you want to find pages with “review” in the title, you enter intitle:review.
9. Finding Related Sites
If you want to find not a specific site, but sites similar to it, you can use the qualifier related. For instance, to find news sites that Google considers similar to the Guardian, you can enter related:theguardian.com.
10. Put Them Together
You don’t need to just use one of these tips at a time. If your search is for either a specific phrase excluding one particular type of reference or variations of a word within a page title, you can combine quotes, minus, OR, asterisk and intitle.
Google and other search engines are steadily improving the search, and power tools of this kind will become even more useful in the future. As long as users know about them, which isn’t the case right now.