Welcome to the Tech Digest guide to online search.
This guide will:
- focus on some Google standards (the basics);
- take a look at some of Google’s new search tools;
- cover some more advanced/niche uses for Google;
- offer some alternatives to Google search.
Though Google has an incredible array of advanced options (see next section), usually some very basic ideas will get you a long way.
Find all words
Type in two or more words to search for, separated by spaces, to find web pages with all of those words.
apple microsoft finds any page referencing both “apple” and “microsoft”
Find a phrase
To find an exact phrase, enclose it in double quotes (note that single quotes won’t work)
"palm pre" finds any page with that exact phrase somewhere on it.
Exclude certain words
Combined with other search results, use the hyphen directly before a word to exclude it. Web pages that contain that word won’t be returned in the search results.
apple ipod -touch finds web pages with “apple” and “ipod” on it, but excludes any also including the word “touch”.
Using the asterisk (*) symbol you can ask Google to find search terms separated by one or more words. It’s more precise than simply searching for all words on a page, yet isn’t constrained like an exact phrase match.
nokia * "operating system" finds web pages with the word “nokia” followed one or more words later by the phrase “operating system”.
Search specific sites
You can restrict Google’s search to results from your own country simply by checking the button next to “pages from the…” (in Britain it’ll say “pages from the UK”).
However, you can also specify certain sites that Google should return results from using
site:. Simply include this syntax along with your search words.
You can be very specific (eg
site:techdigest.tv) or allow a wider search (eg
"planning policy" site:gov.uk searches all British government web sites for the phrase “planning policy”
You can get a list of definitions, based on search results, by typing
define: followed by a word or phrase.
define:"mobile phone" brings back a formatted list of definitions about mobile phones.
filetype: syntax you can restrict your search to certain types of files.
keyboard shortcuts crib sheet filetype: pdf searches for these terms in PDF files.
To the right of the Google search box is an “Advanced Search” link which takes you to a form that can be used to build up more detailed queries.
What’s nice is that, as you enter various information into the form, the top of the page displays the actual query that you could type into Google, so you can even use it to learn the basic syntax.
Google has just released a new set of tools that can be used to enhance the searching experience.
It’s possible to quickly filter the results to include only certain types of results (eg reviews), to show results of a certain age, and to see related searches or a timeline.
Let’s take a look by searching for “macbook pro”.
Clicking on “Show Options” brings up new options in the left hand column.
Here’s what clicking on “videos” brings up. You can also look at forum postings and pages that Google considers to be reviews.
All results can be filtered to display those published/changed in the last 24 hours, week, or year.
You can also change the search results output to display thumbnail images or expanded text.
Here’s search results with images included.
The Wonderwheel is a graphical representation of related search terms.
This wonderwheel was generated from “macbook pro”, followed by clicking on “macbook pro battery life”, followed by “macbook pro battery life cycles”.
To get the search results listing for any of these, just click on “standard view” in the left-hand column.
Related searches simply brings up a list of similar search terms.
Google can build together a timeline of results, often useful for getting a basic overview of the history of an event, place, product, company or person.
Searching specific sources
The standard Google page is great for many purposes, but when you want to search for a particular type of resource, there are more specific Google tools to let you do that.
Here are a few:
- Image search: Simple and Advanced image searching
- Blog search: Simple and Advanced searching of sites Google considers as blogs
- News: Latest headlines pulled from various online news sources. Simple and Advanced
- Academic: Search academic research papers. Simple and Advanced
- Books: Search Google’s increasing full text database of books: Simple and Advanced
- Finance: Find specific financial information with Google Finance search.
- Product search: Simple and Advanced price comparison searching.
- Translation: Translate web pages and phrases.
- Directory: The Google Directory is a mix of Google search results and the human-edited open directory project. It categorises and ranks web pages based on their usefulness.
- Maps: Get maps, limited street views and directions with Google Maps search.
- Universities: Search only within selected academic institutions using Google University search.
- Video: If you’re not hooked on one video platform, Google video search (Advanced) returns results from YouTube, Viddler, DailyMotion, Veoh, Vimeo, Flickr, MySpace, and a host of independent sites.
- Code: If you’re really into coding, Google Code will return results specifically regarding various programming languages. Not for the fainthearted.
Other useful operators
- Sometimes, a web page may be unavailable or the information has changed. In this case, you can type
cache:followed by the site address (URL) to get the last snapshot that Google took of it. eg:
- Want highlights with that? Combine the cache function with search terms and Google will highlight them on the cached page eg:
- Get film information: to find reviews and other information about a film, use
movie:star trek. To get film times based on your location, use
moviewithout the colon eg
movie star trek.
- Find related web sites with the
related:techdigest.tvbrings back shinyshiny.tv, hdtvuk.tv, shinymedia.com, wiiwii.tv, and so on.
- Keywords only in the title: As the title of a page is often highly descriptive of the contents, you can use
allintitle:to return pages with search terms found in the title. Example
allintitle:review palm prereturns pages where those words are all present in the title. You can also use
intitle:for a single word. Example
intitle:review "palm pre"will search for “review” in the title of web pages that contain the phrase “palm pre”
Your search history
If you have any type of Google account (a GMail email account, for example) then you can sign in before performing searches. This way, Google can keep a track of what you’ve searched for using Google History.
You may not want such a record kept, so you’ll have to balance privacy concerns over the advantages of having your complete search history and visited web pages at your fingertips.
In any case, you can choose to pause or resume Google’s collection of search data at any time, or simply log out of your Google account while searching.
The Google Toolbar sits in your browser and offers quick access to a range of functions including search history, translation, Gmail, dictionary, bookmarks, and autofill.
This isn’t an exhaustive list of Google tools and techniques but it will set you well on the way to finding the kind of information you need.
Google is near ubiquitous, granted, but there are other sites online worth using for searches. Many will crop up by doing a Google search, but why not go direct for a specific type of search?
- Sounds: search for audio clips at FindSounds.com
- Movie and TV information: find extraordinary amounts of information on films, TV programmes, actors, directors and other crew at IMDB.com – the Internet Movie Database
- Open Directory: DMOZ.org is the Open Directory project – basically, a human-edited directory of categorised web sites.
- Video/TV: Blinkx.com searches over 35 million hours of video using proprietary technology.
- Blog directory: Technorati isn’t as popular as it once was, but it can still offer up some decent information on blogs. Bloglines and Google Reader will also sniff out blogs and their content.
- Aggregated (combined) search: Clusty.com is one of several search engines which takes the results from a number of other prominent engines and aggregates the results on a single page. Dogpile.com is another one.
- BBC: There’s a wealth of information on the BBC’s own website including news, sport, TV and radio information and a load of “how to” guides. Easily accessible from most pages including the top of the home page.
- Your questions answered: Answers.com is one of several sites that allow users to type in questions for other users to answer. Inevitably there’s a lot of junk there, but nuggets are also to be found.
- Online encyclopaedia: Wikipedia has come under a lot of criticism but it’s still a very useful source of information on a lot of subjects, presuming you don’t blindly take everything it says as the absolute truth.
- Business and Finance: Wouldn’t you just expect to find it at Business.com? Slightly more heavy-duty searchable business information site.
- Trust a librarian? Check out the Librarians’ Internet Index as a directory of “websites you can trust”.
- Real or myth? Search Snopes.com to find out.
- Find a load more sites useful for academic research at 100 Useful Niche Search Engines to Focus and Finetune Your Academic Research.
Well, that’s it for now. I hope this guide has been useful, and perhaps given you some new ways and places to search for stuff online.
If you want to know anything or have your own tips, leave us a comment or connect up via Tech Digest on Twitter.
By Andy Merrett | May 14th, 2009