Google has become so fundamentally bound up with the evolution of the internet as we know it that it’s hard to imagine a web without it. So synonymous with practice of web search has Google become that it has even been accepted as a verb, entering the pantheon of brand names that have been adopted as generic terms such hoover, sellotape and astroturf.
Yet despite its ubiquity, the functionality that allow you to refine and tailor searches in Google and other search engines are often underappreciated and underused. Google is a hugely powerful tool, but armed with even a basic knowledge of the punctuation and operators that search engines understand really can introduce a whole new level of precision to your searches.
Below are some essential search techniques that will no doubt be essential for any budding SEO, as well as the general user.
Quotation Marks (“”)
Perhaps the most commonly used punctuation that Google understands and for good reason. Encase any search in quotation marks and you will force Google to only look for instances of that exact combination of words in that order.
- Perfect for: Searching for specific instances of text (which could come in handy for finding duplicate or scraped content).
The Wildcard (*)
Many people will be familiar with the concept of wildcards in familiar software like Excel formulas, but their use in Google search is often under looked. Use wildcards in between searches to let Google fill in the blanks.
- Perfect for: Looking up quotes and phrases that you can only half remember.
Despite Google’s decision to drop the + operator in October 2011, the minus operator lives on and remains one of the most powerful search techniques you can use in Google. Using the minus operator will effectively tell Google to discount results with the terms or phrases that follow it.
- Perfect for: Combining with an operator like the site: operator to force Google to ignore all results from certain sites. The minus operator is also powerful used in conjunction with many other operators or combinations of operators.
Fairly limited in use but very useful for returning results that fall between two numerical values, like dates or values.
- Perfect for: Searching for things like historical events, like wars or treaties, that fall between two given years.
The hashtag is social media savvy punctuation that we’re all undoubtedly pretty familiar with nowadays. Using hashtags in Google is a powerful way of searching for trending topics across the web.
Perfect for: Searching for trending topics across the web instead of conducting searches limited to one platform, like Twitter.
The site operator forces Google to only return results from a specific URL, root domain or even TLD. So a search for site:bosmol.com will only return pages from this specific domain, whereas a search for site:.com will only return sites with the .com top level domain.
- Perfect for: Combining with the minus operator (see above) to force Google to rule out specific sites or TLDs. So -site:.com will exclude.com domains from your search.
The inurl operator is the perfect fine tuning instrument for SEOs as it pinpoints words contained only in the actual URL itself, whether that be the root domain, subfolders or subdomains. So a popular search for those looking to contribute content to another site might be inurl:”write for us”. (Note the use of quotation marks to force Google to look for that exact phrase only).
- Perfect for:Site prospecting and outreach as it enables you to return results based on phrases and words that are only found in the URL.
Not as targeted as the site or inurl operators, the intitle operator will only search for words contained in the HTML title tags of webpages (H1, H2, H3, etc).
- Perfect for: By virtue of your results appearing in title tags only, this operator allows you to focus on highly relevant webpages, instead of those just containing a passing reference to your search term somewhere in the body of the webpage.
A very targeted search that specifies the file type you want to return. You’ll probably rarely use this but it’s handy to know that you can limit your search to PDFs or DOCs instead of web pages.
- Perfect for: Looking for manuals, instructional documents, studies, surveys, or any other downloadable content that’s not HTML.
The related operator will search for sites that Google sees as similar to the URL given. This doesn’t normally return a lot of sites (Moz only returns 44 results) but they are on the whole similar to the site you’ve specified in your original search.
- Perfect for: Finding really good outreach and guest blogging opportunities you might have missed. Try experimenting to see what gems you can uncover.