Google’s search engine is a flexible and highly customizable tool.
And yet I’m still amazed to find digital marketing professionals who are just unaware of some of the most powerful and essential search techniques.
Being able to use just a handful of Google’s most common search operators can open up a whole new dimension in search specificity, allowing you to hone in your results and filter out millions of irrelevant web pages.
Add in additional functionality like time dependent search, Google Alerts and a couple of straightforward URL hacks and you’ve effectively got yourself an upgraded search engine.
There are a lot of search operators you can use in Google search and an even larger number of ways in which you can combine them to create pin point accurate searches.
Below are four that you simply cannot do without.
1. Quotation Marks
Quotation marks (” “) force Google to only return results that match the exact phrase or term entered.
This is perhaps the most widely known operator, probably because it’s almost certainly the most useful operator you can know.
Essential when trying to search for specific terms or quotes.
2. The Minus Operator
The minus (-) operator allows you to discount certain terms or phrases from your searches.
This is extremely useful if you’re searching for something that often gets confused with something else.
The minus operator can also be used in conjunction with other operators to open up a whole new level of precision search.
Despite showing images for the Terminator films in the example below, using the minus operator has produced organic web search results that aren’t in fact referring to the films.
The site: operator allows you to specify a URL to hone your search down to a specific site.
This is an extremely powerful way of searching a large site, or a subdomain on that site, for specific terms and words.
Combined with the minus (-) operator it can become an incredibly powerful way of searching the web for any references to a website, whilst discounting all the internal results from the site itself.
The intitle: operator allows you to interrogate the web for words and terms that only appear in a document or webpage’s title.
This is a very powerful way of targeting your search especially when used with quotation marks.
Other Search Functionality
The power Google has to refine search results doesn’t just stop with the use of operators.
The search engine has some useful and all too often overlooked features that could end up making your life a lot easier, if only you knew they existed.
From time dependent search to alerts, here are four of our favourites.
5. Time Dependent Search Results
It might seem like an obvious one, but a lot of people forget the time filter in Google’s search engine, which is hidden away under the ‘search tools’ tab, which also drops down to reveal a whole raft of other filters.
The time filter allows you to search for webpages that have been indexed anywhere from the last year to the last 24 hours.
You can also specify a custom range in here, which enables you to search for articles that were written about a certain event or news story in the days, weeks or months after it occurred.
There may be occasions when you want to tailor your results to only show web pages that have been indexed mere hours, minutes or even seconds ago.
This could be to find articles that are literally ‘hot off the press’ for example.
Just enter the following hack at the end of the URL in the address bar for the specific Google search engine results page with a unit of time and number as defined below.
&tbs=qdr:n5 – will only show webpages cached in the last five minutes
&tbs=qdr:s5 – will only show webpages cached in the last five seconds
6. Displaying Publication Dates of Web Pages
This URL hack is one of my favourites and extremely useful.
Whilst publication dates are shown for some results in the SERPs, you’ll always find a lot of results that don’t display them.
We’ve all been searching for articles on a subject before only clicking through to one that looks really relevant only to find it’s seven or eight years old and totally irrelevant now.
Worse still, many sites don’t even bother to display publication date, leaving you to skim read the article or browse the first comments to try and approximate when it was first published.
By adding this bit of code to the end of the URL in Google’s search engine results page you can see the first date every page was cached by Google next to each result.
This is extremely powerful if used in conjunction with the site: operator as you can immediately see which is the most relevant article on any given subject within a given website.
7. Google Reverse Image Search
Google’s reverse image search never fails to amaze as it effectively allows you to search for images by typing in image URLs or even uploading images from your own hard drive into Google’s search engine.
This is an often overlooked feature of web search, partly because the technology is still in its infancy and partly because it’s not always obvious what to use it for.
From an SEO’s perspective I think one of the most useful ways of using this feature is to search for images of people’s profile images.
This is a quick way of clarifying authorship for a particular article or social media profile as fake profiles will often use random photos from the internet and you’ll quickly find the source of the image this way.
Check out this Lifehacker article for many more tips on harnessing the power of Google’s reverse image search.
8. Google Alerts
Last but certainly not least are Google Alerts.
This feature could well become outdated in the near future with the wave of powerful new social and keyword tracking tools hitting the market such as Social Mention and Mention.
What Google Alerts allow you to do is effectively monitor the web for mentions of a given set of keywords or keyphrases and inform you with regular emails.
The frequency of these emails can be set to once a day or once a week.
Alternatively you can have Google Alerts email you on an ‘as-it-happens’ basis.
You can apply various filters to your alerts including region, language and result type (news, blogs, video, etc).
Search operators can also be used here when defining your search.