5 Ways to Use Advanced Search Operators to be Better at Google

By Gary Magnone

We’ve all been there. You’re looking for what seems to be a needle in a haystack. You type your search query in Google, scan the 10 blue links, hit the next page, scan again, then give up and go back to the drawing board. But what if there were an easier way? What if you could search a keyword and have Google give you everything you ever wanted? Well, my friends, welcome to the wonderful world of advanced search operators.

Advanced search operators are query words and symbols that help Google better understand what you’re looking for. Used strategically, they’ll allow you to specify exactly the type of sites you want and filter out everything that doesn’t match. Here’s a quick rundown, followed by five practical ways they can make your life on the web easier and more productive:

OR – to find pages that include either of two search terms
intitle: – to find pages that include given terms within the title of the page
intext: – to find pages that include given terms within the text of the page
inurl: – to find pages that include given terms within the URL of the page
ext: – to find documents of a specified type
site: – to search within one specific website
related: – to find pages that are similar or related to a given page
Numrange (1..5) – to find pages that contain numbers within a given range
Double quotes (“keyword”) – to find pages that include the exact phrase
Reductive (-keyword) – to find pages that do not contain the given terms

1. Data Collection

One great way to use advanced search operators is to find published data to reference for a research paper, business presentation, case study, or infographic. Say I’m trying to find a study that provides data on counterfeit designer handbags in North America in 2010, I would structure my query like this:

“handbags” “counterfeit” OR “counterfeited” intitle:2010 OR ext:pdf

Image: Hannah

Or if I were trying to find statistics on the demographic breakdown of people using Twitter, I would use the search options in the left menu to limit results to the past year and structure my query like this:

demographics study OR research intitle:twitter ext:pdf

2. Finding Similar Sites

Sometimes you come across a cool craft beer blog while browsing Twitter or you find an awesome link prospect while doing link building for a client and you want to find more sites that are just like it. Hmmm…what to do? Try using the related operator to ask Google to show you sites that they think are similar to the one you like. For example, if I come across and want Google to show me even more awesome bacon blogs, I’d search:

Image: Kent Brew

3. Local SEO Research

Have you ever worked with one of those local search clients that’s moved offices 3 times and changed their main phone number twice over the past several years? If so, you know what a headache it can be to find all those old citations that are causing all the confusion in Google. One way is to use Whitespark’s Local Citation Finder to quickly gather all the listings using the business’ old phone number. But if I needed to base my search around the old addresses, I’d structure a search query like this:

“business name” “old address” ”current phone number” -”current address” 

Or if you want to find all the business listings in a specific directory using any combination of the current or old information, try a search like this: “business name” “current phone number” OR “current address” OR “former phone number” OR “former address”

(Pro tip: Use SEOmoz’s mozbar to export each SERP to CSV for quick & easy tracking)

4. Blog Discovery

There are a lot of options for discovering blogs written on specific topics. Some favorites include Google Blog Search, Alltop, Technorati, the recently red-hot Pinterest, and a new service we just started using, GroupHigh. But what about if you wanted to go the old fashioned way and use regular ol’ Google search to uncover the gems of the blogging world? Well, say I was looking for graphic design blogs that have written a post about business cards at some point, I would probably use a query like this:

“graphic design” OR “graphic designer” intitle:”business cards” inurl:blog OR intext:blog OR intitle:blog

Or if I were looking to find action sports-focused blogs that have written posts about industry apparel, I’d put together a query like this:

“action sports” OR “snowboarding” OR “wakeboarding” OR “motocross” OR “bmx” OR “surfing” OR “skateboarding” “clothing” OR “fashion” OR “apparel” OR “eyewear” OR “accessories” inurl:blog OR intext:blog OR intitle:blog

5. Winning Bar Bets & Deal Hunting

What about the other weekend when you and your friends had one of those cocktail-fueled music debates only to get stuck on that one early 80’s Hall & Oates song that no one in their inebriated states can seem to remember the name of? That’s why Steve Jobs invented the iPhone, right? Just fire up the Googles, and find the song in just seconds using the numrange operator like this: hall and oates 1980..1985

Private Eyes, of course! This seemingly useless operator can actually be a really cool tool for comparison shopping too. For example, say I’m browsing through the camera isle at my local Best Buy and I find a Canon T2i for $673. It’s a great price, but I have a feeling I can find that cheaper online, so I fire up my phone and Google this:

canon “t2i” $500..673

There’s Amazon, the #1 spot, with an amazing deal at $589, almost $100 cheaper than the in-store price at Best Buy. Numrange can also work its magic for local search as well, like if I wanted to find a computer electronics store within certain street numbers on a specific street or a brewery within surrounding zipcodes.

As you can see, advanced Google search operators provide information that regular Google searches just can’t. Not only is it faster, easier, more effective, and efficient, it will make you seem ten times smarter than your friends. Go ahead, try it, you might just find what you’re looking for.

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  • Big Tony

    Hello Don, What a great post! I never knew how many wonderful things that you could use Google for! Very insightful. I say this outta respect for you the Don. Salut!

    -Big Tony

  • Kate

    Great post, Gary!

  • Great post as usual. The ability to consolidate multiple queries using OR is very helpful. Also, I didn’t know about the numrange, which I plan to test out on everything from addresses to data to shopping (as you suggested!).