Advanced Search Engine Techniques
You’ve probably scrolled through page after page of search results, looking for an old video or article you know exists, but you can’t quite remember the title. What’s even more frustrating than that is when you do know the exact title but other results are showing up instead. There’s a way to tell your search engine to search for the query exactly as you’ve typed it (just put it in quote marks). Even better, you can tell your search engine to return only results with your query in the title by using the following syntax:
followed by your query. In conjunction with quote marks, you can make sure you get results with a title exactly as you typed it.
Finding good info in a sea of low quality info
Our lives continue to get busier in an ever accelerating society fueled by accessible information.Despite the fact that we have more info available, we have less time to consume it --- and even less to search for it. Not just because we’re busy, but because we’ve become accustomed to instant answers to our questions
Anything slower than instantaneous is an inconvenience and an irritation. The trap we spoiled generations fall into is reading the first thing that comes our way, when factors like popularity drive rankings. Popularity is a powerful indicator; it just isn’t necessarily as important as search engines rank it by default. What we need are quick hacks to make our searches more specific.
This is how we can narrow down results, to:
1. save ourselves time scrolling
2. uncover otherwise unattainable content
3. expose ourselves to valuable information that we otherwise wouldn’t have
These techniques don’t magically produce different results; they just narrow down the results, so you come across pages that might otherwise be buried. Have you ever tried to get to the bottom of the results list for a common phrase like “flat earth” on YouTube? Just because the results are at the top,doesn’t mean they are most relevant to you. The Flat Earth debunkers get millions of hits, while the ones who are explaining their theory get crushed by the pile of more popular opinions. Lets just say you wanted to amuse yourself by hearing one of these people out for once. How’s your scrolling finger?
If you’re looking for a less conventional perspective on a topic, you can save yourself some serious scrolling by throwing some extra qualifiers into your query.
Use your filters
The first thing to note is the filter feature on your favorite search engine. You can manually set how far back the search goes (according to upload date). Some offer a custom range, which can make it easier to find specific articles if you have a rough idea of the upload date. These basic filters might be all you need to narrow down your search.
Advanced Search Syntax
1. Narrow your search to just pages on a specific site, with this syntax:
This is useful because some sites don’t come with their own search tool, and some that do don’t necessarily have a good one.
2. Get results for multiple search queries by adding the syntax:
So if you were looking for documents with quotes by Mark Twain, because you wanted an interpretation of a certain quote or two, and you happened to know a couple quotes of his, you could search for both quotes. Just put each quote within their own pair of quote marks or paranthesis, and separate the two quotes with an OR. Your search engine will return results for pages that have either quote exactly as you typed them (so make sure you get it right to the letter).
3. To narrow your search to a specific site domain, simply include that domain in the query:
.gov .org .com, etc
Even better, if you wanted to find a document referencing at least one of two quotes by Mark Twain,but it had to be from a government site (watch, your next research project is going to be “how manytimes has the government quoted Mark Twain”), you could put the quotes, in quote marks, separated byan OR, and include the syntax: .gov
4. Search by file format, by including the file extension syntax:
.pdf .mp3 .gif .jpg, etc
Now let’s say you needed a government produced document referencing one of two quotes by Mark Twain, but rather than a web page, you needed a PDF...Ok, lets not say that, because its a bad example.
Lets turn to a better example: say you needed a chart, a checklist, a step-by-step list, or a diagram for reference. Maybe you need a wiring diagram for your car, and you wanted to be able to reference it on your phone. Or print it. You get the picture. Cope and paste is an extra step, when you can just include .pdf in the search query to make your search engine return results for pages that have a downloadable PDF. If you’re doing an image search but it needs to be a certain file format...now you know what to do.
5. Search for pages that are related, or, even better, link to a certain site with:
Link: and related:
This could be useful if you’re reading product reviews, and you want to weed out the content that doesn't link you to the Amazon page for a product. Or, you might find credible reporting on new legislation by qualifying your query to only include websites that can be bothered to link to the site where the new legislation is published.
Now, if only there was a way to exclude search engine results that link to a certain site, for those of us who want to give all of our business to smaller retailers, or want to exclude mainstream media outlets...
Also, beware that if you use, say, link:YouTube, you’re going to get lots of results for actual YouTube pages, because YouTube uploaders commonly link to their other videos in the video description.
6. Include results with a specific root word by replacing the suffix with * . Just use the search:
next time you’re looking for everything pertaining to writing. If you weren’t sure which direction you wanted to go with your report about Mark Twain (how is that coming, anyways?) you could search:
(Mark Twain quotes on) write* OR work*and you’d get results for Mark Twain quotes that had any of the following: writer(s), write, writing,written, working, worker(s), work, worked, workhorse, workspace, and any others suffixes for the root words you’ve included
These methods are going to be useful in other ways than the examples we’ve given here, so don’t be afraid to think about the various ways they can be applied.And while these syntax may seem a lot to remember, you don’t necessarily have to memorize them.Next time you’re struggling to get the results you want, remember this article and say to yourself:Now,this search would be easy if there was just a way to...The syntax, as you’ve seen here, are usually pretty self explanatory. Still, if you can’t remember it, you can always refer back to here