Friday, November 9, 2012

Google-Fu: Little Known Tricks for Google Searching

There are over 600 million websites in the world right now.  To put this number in perspective, if you started trying to count all the websites that exist today, it would take you about ten years of counting around the clock.  The internet is a pretty big place.  To find your way around, you have to know how to use search engines such as Yahoo, Bing, and Google.  Google is by far the most popular but, even though people use it every day, most of them don't know the tricks that help to narrow their search down to exactly what they need.  In other words, they don't know the basic moves of Google-Fu.  There are dozens of these, but in this post we'll just talk about a few of the most useful ones.

One basic trick everyone should know is to use quotes when searching for an exact phrase. If you want to know how to use the phrase "fine as frog hair" in a sentence, you don't want a page that just happens to have the words "fine", "frog", and "hair".  Putting quotes around a phrase will tell Google to search for the full phrase, instead of searching for each word separately.  However, this may not be necessary with common phrases, because Google is able to recognize those. For example, if you type in lord of the rings, Google will recognize the phrase, and give you results related to the books or movies first, instead of pages that just happen to have those individual words in them.


A good way to get exactly what you're looking for in your search is to use special commands called operators.  For example, if you want to search within a particular site, such as this blog, you can use the operator "site:". If you're looking for information related to Thanksgiving, you would enter:


This will show you results just from within this website, as shown below.  Notice that you don't have to capitalize "Thanksgiving", or any other word in a Google search.  Google isn't case sensitive--it treats capital and lower case letters the same way.

You can also use the "site:" operator to search by domain (.com, .gov, .org, etc).  This is useful if, for example, you just want sites from the US government.  These have the domain .gov.  Let's say you're looking for information about hurricane protection on government websites.  Type in:

hurricane protection

You can also use operators to define a word.  Let's say you're trying to remember what the word "calaboose" means.  Simply type in:


Google will give you a definition at the top of the page, and let you choose between definitions from different online dictionaries:

Incidentally, Google and other search engines are a great way to quickly check your spelling, because they can usually recognize the word you're trying to type, and suggest the correct spelling.

Another useful operator is the minus sign, which you can use to find sites that don't contain a certain word.  For example, if you want to find websites about Spam, the meat product, instead of spam as junk email, you could enter

spam -email

This will leave out webpages that contain the word "email".  Of course, it may be better to simply make your search more specific, by typing in "spam meat" or "fried spam casserole recipes".  Still, the minus sign operator can come in very handy sometimes.

Have you ever looked at a website and thought, "I wish I could find more websites like this".  Here's how you do that:  use the operator "related".  If you want to find websites similar to Pinterest, for example, enter:

Another way to do similar searches is to use the website, which is a more powerful tool for finding related websites.

Advanced Search

If you prefer not to remember a bunch of operators, an easier way to use some of the most common Google tricks is to use the Advanced Search page.  Just scroll to the bottom of the search results and click the Advanced Search link there.

One of the things Advanced Search lets you do is search for recent information by specifying when the page was last updated.  If you're searching in a rapidly changing field, such as science or technology, it's useful to be able to exclude older webpages. I was recently searching for reviews of digital cameras.  When I typed in "best digital cameras", some of the websites were from 2006 and 2007, which is ancient in the digital camera world.  So, I used Advanced Search to specify that I wanted a review from within the last year.

Advanced search also lets you specify the language and region of the webpages you want.  If you want, say, French language websites from Canada, Google can do that.  You can also specify what file format you're looking for, if you're looking for PowerPoint or PDF files.  The best way to get a feel for Advanced Search is to simply go there and try it out. 

I've just talked about a few of the great tricks you can use to make your Google searches more rewarding.  There are many others, as well as many specialized search pages within Google, such as Google News, Google Image Search, and Google Books.  We'll talk about those in future blog posts.  But remember, not everything online is Google-able.  A lot of the information on the internet is hidden away behind pay walls and passwords.  For example, what if you're buying a new computer, and want to read reviews in Consumer Reports?  If you go to the Consumer Reports website, you'll find that you need a paid subscription to read the articles.  Does that mean you have to get a subscription?  Not if you have a library card.  Just go to one of our databases, enter your card number, and start reading. 

Just because you can't find something through Google doesn't mean it's not available online. It may be available through the library.  To find out if we have what you're looking for, just give the reference department a call, at 876-5861, Option 2. Google is great, but the combination of Google and your library is even better!

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